Halifax: An International Hockey Hotbed
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in the 2008 IIHF World Championship official program
By Lucas Aykroyd
Some people visit Halifax for attractions like the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Pier 21, or the Halifax Citadel. But for hardcore sports fans, this port city of 370,000 is renowned for staging outstanding international hockey events.
Halifax’s Metro Centre will host 26 round-robin games at the 2008 IIHF World Championship, including three Preliminary Round dates featuring Canada against Slovenia (May 2), Latvia (May 4), and the USA (May 6). Based on the Nova Scotia capital’s track record, you can expect pure pandemonium to reign at the 10,000-capacity arena. This is a hockey town.
In 2003, Halifax co-hosted the IIHF World Junior Championship with Sydney, and the results were spectacular. Even before winning the right to host in 1999, 6,000 ticket packages were sold at $600 apiece, showing the community’s passion for hockey. “Junior hockey really has the respect from the people in Canada,” IIHF President René Fasel said of the atmosphere in Halifax. “When you get out of the plane, you can smell hockey.”
Led by captain Scottie Upshall, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and gritty winger Jordin Tootoo, the ’03 edition of Team Canada captured the imagination of locals and hockey fans nationwide. TSN’s coverage of the Canada-Russia gold medal game became its highest-rated event ever, attracting 3.45 million viewers. Even though Canada lost 3-2 to a skillful Russian squad paced by Yuri Trubachev and Igor Grigorenko, the tournament was a massive success overall because Haligonians didn’t just show up for the host team’s games. Virtually every seat in the house was sold for every tilt, and a new total attendance record of 242,173 was established. (The record stood until the 2006 World Juniors, when Vancouver, Kamloops, and Kelowna pulled in 325,138 spectators.)
International women’s hockey has also seen some of its finest moments in Halifax. The 2004 IIHF World Women’s Championship elevated the rivalry between the North American superpowers to a new level.
The USA ended Canada’s 37-game winning streak at the tournament with a 3-1 round-robin victory. But Canada responded with a 2-0 blanking of the Americans in the final game, as Hayley Wickenheiser scored the decisive goal and Kim St-Pierre recorded the shutout in front of a sell-out Metro Centre crowd. Meanwhile, Finland edged Sweden 3-2 for bronze. Over the course of 20 games, total attendance was 94,001, eclipsing the previous mark of 66,783 set by Kitchener, Ontario in 1997.
Beyond the 2008 Worlds, Haligonians are already looking at the possibility of hosting more international events. Canada has been allotted the 2010 and 2012 World Juniors, and Halifax intends to bid for both those tournaments. The competition will be as stiff as a strong Atlantic wind, but this city will get some serious consideration, simply based on what it’s accomplished before.