The Right Choice on the Left Coast: World Juniors Hit Vancouver
Sunday, 12 August 2007
By Lucas Aykroyd
When it comes to Vancouver’s burgeoning reputation as a venue for world-class events, “synergy” is more than a corporate buzzword or name for a high-tech hockey stick. Since being awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics, this scenic, multicultural city of 2 million has also earned the right to host the 2005 Grey Cup, the 2007 Memorial Cup, the 2008 World Triathlon Championships, and the 2006 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
So where does this synergy come from? Well, it’s not just something in the water in British Columbia.
THE MINDS BEHIND THE MAGIC
Partial credit belongs to forward-thinking minds in BC sports, business, and politics. Vancouver Giants owner Ron Toigo and 2010 Olympic CEO John Furlong are prime examples. Toigo, who also runs the White Spot restaurant chain, has transformed the Giants from a bottom-feeding WHL expansion franchise circa 2001 into an exciting contender that’s produced stars like Gilbert Brule and Andrej Meszaros. The average attendance at Giants home games in 2004-05 surged to 8,400, the fourth-highest in Canada. Furlong, meanwhile, knows just what it takes to bid successfully for an international event after edging out Pyeongchang, Korea and Salzburg, Austria for the 21st Winter Games back in 2003.
So when Toigo and Furlong joined forces to bid for the 2006 World Juniors, it was no surprise that Vancouver landed the tournament over four other Canadian bids, guaranteeing a profit of $5.2 million. All 330,000 tickets available for games at the Pacific Coliseum and GM Place were sold out eight months in advance.
The success of the Vancouver Canucks has also enhanced the city’s reputation. GM Dave Nonis and his predecessor, Brian Burke, have iced one of the NHL’s most skillful and fiscally sound clubs since the start of the new millennium. While the Canucks haven’t hoisted the Stanley Cup yet, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi are perennial All-Star contenders and box-office attractions. Trevor Linden and Brendan Morrison are solid, beloved Vancouver citizens on and off the ice. All of this has increased the community’s appetite for Canada’s number one sport.
BEYOND THE RINKS
And yes, life outside hockey rinks here is a nice selling point, too.
Outgoing Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell has striven to revitalize local sports, arts, and community life, overturning Vancouver’s former unjust reputation as “No Fun City.” While Premier Gordon Campbell has been criticized at times, it’s widely conceded his government has spurred BC’s economic growth. (The premier was recently spotted shopping at The Bay, wearing a leather jacket from Electronic Arts, whose local studios are responsible for the acclaimed NHL video game series.)
In 2004, travel agents selected Vancouver as Canada’s top destination for the second straight year, reported Travel Weekly magazine. A 2005 Economist Intelligence Report picked Vancouver as the world’s best place to live in terms of personal risk, infrastructure, and availability of goods and services.
If you’re in this West Coast metropolis to catch live World Junior action between December 26 and January 5, there are many ways to divert yourself between games.
Go for a 10-kilometer run around the Stanley Park Seawall, or chill out with the beluga whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium. Enjoy a panoramic view of the city from Grouse Mountain after taking the Skyride gondola to the summit, or traverse the swaying 450-foot Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. It’s only a two-hour drive to Whistler, the international ski mecca that will host Alpine events in 2010.
Chinatown is just steps away from GM Place, featuring the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens plus colourful architecture and Asian markets. Also nearby is Science World, the giant silver geodesic dome at the end of False Creek with interactive exhibits and OMNIMAX films showing daily.
Culinary buffs love Vancouver’s restaurants, which are among the world’s best. Tojo’s on West Broadway attracts rock stars with its cutting-edge sushi. With Hollywood movies constantly shooting here, you may find the likes of Al Pacino or Jennifer Lopez at Yaletown hotspots such as Elixir and Cioppino’s. NHLers favor downtown eateries like Joe Fortes and Gotham Steakhouse. Families dine well at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown or Red Robin on Robson Street.
Whether you’re shopping at mega-malls like downtown’s Pacific Centre or Metrotown in Burnaby, sampling the nightlife at the Roxy or the Shark Club, or visiting the BC Sports Hall of Fame at BC Place, you’ll enjoy Vancouver’s laid-back brand of hospitality.
A HISTORY OF EXCITEMENT
Since the early 20th century, Vancouver has experienced some incredible sports moments. Cyclone Taylor led the Vancouver Millionaires to the city’s only Stanley Cup in 1915, defeating the Ottawa Senators in three straight games at the old Denman Street Arena. In the 1954 Commonwealth Games, Britain’s Roger Bannister barely edged Australia’s John Landy in the “Miracle Mile” at Empire Stadium, as both men ran under four minutes. 1979 saw wild celebrations as the Vancouver Whitecaps beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies to capture the North American Soccer League championship.
Inspired by “Towel Power,” the Canucks charged to the 1982 Stanley Cup finals, where they succumbed to the New York Islanders in four straight games. 1994 was a tighter affair, as Pavel Bure and Kirk McLean played key roles in Vancouver’s seven-game thriller with the eventual Cup champion New York Rangers. That fall, Vancouver celebrated its third Grey Cup title after Lui Passaglia’s stunning last-minute field goal at BC Place Stadium lifted the BC Lions past Baltimore.
Even though the 2006 World Juniors mark the first IIHF tournament Vancouver has hosted, the city is no stranger to international hockey. The Pacific Coliseum hosted games in both the 1972 Summit Series and the 1974 WHA-USSR series. In 1977, the Canucks played their first-ever Superseries match against a Russian club, defeating Spartak 2-0 on a pair of Rick Blight goals. Ernie “Punch” McLean’s New Westminster Bruins trounced the Moscow Selects 7-2 at the Coliseum in an exhibition warm-up for the 1979 World Juniors in Sweden.
In the 1984 Canada Cup, the Swedes beat the host team 4-2 in Vancouver. It was Tre Kronor’s first win over Canada on North American ice since 1962. In 1996, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky had two assists each as Canada dumped Russia 5-3 in its World Cup opener at GM Place.
International hockey has become so competitive that there are no sure bets anymore. But visitors are guaranteed to feel the synergy in Vancouver, whether watching a tic-tac-toe scoring play at GM Place or admiring the snow-capped North Shore Mountains beyond the Lion’s Gate Bridge. It’s easy to see why this is the right choice on the Left Coast.