The City of Nations is hosting the world in a tournament that features our national sport.
Clearly, the announcement that the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are hosting the 2015 and 2017 World Junior Hockey Championships carries a global message.
Details of the tournament were released Thursday at a press conference at Air Canada Centre.
Both cities will host a preliminary round every year. Toronto will host a medal round that spans December 2014 into January 2015. Montreal will take its turn December 2016 and January 2017.
The tournament, of course, carries a bonanza of financial rewards. The economic impact of the 2012 World Championships in Edmonton and Calgary has been pegged at $86 million with $21 million in proceeds directed to grassroots hockey.
But if the World Juniors is a showcase event, its presence in Toronto underscores the challenges facing hockey officials in the most ethnically diverse city in North America.
People born outside of Canada represent 53 per cent of the population of Toronto. More than 80 per cent of school children in Toronto have at least one parent who was born in another nation. The vast majority of new Canadians are of Asian descent. Over the next decade, India is projected to supply 26 per cent of new GTA immigrants and China supplying 19 per cent. Pakistan is not far behind with 15 per cent of immigrants.
The number of Canadians playing hockey has dropped steadily despite the migration of young girls to the sport. Recent surveys have pegged the number of Canadians aged five-19 playing the game at 10 per cent. It’s not out of the question that within the next generation more American than Canadian kids will be playing the game.
While equipment and registration costs, fears over concussions and the abundance of single parent families are also influences, most new Canadians arrive without a historical connection to the national game.
The World Juniors represents a chance to stem that tide in the most dense population base in the country and don’t think hockey officials are unaware of the benefits of wholesale exposure of the game in multicultural Toronto.
Canadian Hockey League president Dave Branch put it succinctly.
“This will present our game to new families and children and give boys and girls the opportunity to take an interest in the game,” he said.
Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, said the 10-team tournament is a fitting event for Toronto.
“We want to make this special for fans coming from afar, from the other nine countries,” said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. “We want to make them understand this is one of the most international cities on the face of the earth and we are going to celebrate all nine of the other cultures and have them come celebrate our city and the uniqueness that makes up Toronto.”
“If we want the game of hockey to be successful long term we have to get new Canadians engaged,” said Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson. “I don’t think there’s a better way to do that than hosting the World Juniors. The rinks are going to be packed. People will be waving the Canadian flag. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to get those kids on the ice in different programs and they’ll go ‘wow, I want to play hockey.’”