For years the following statement was accurate in terms of fan interest: “The World Juniors only matters to Canadians.” However, since Team USA’s gold medal in 2010, with added television exposure nationally thanks to NHL Network and the simulcast on NHL.com, the tide is turning.
When it comes down to it, there is a cultural element to the World Juniors in Canada. It has become a Boxing Day tradition and the TV ratings are bonkers up there, but five years ago, the average American hockey fan had nary a clue as to what the WJC was.
Maybe it was the golden goal off the stick of John Carlson or the growing numbers of familiar American faces in the NHL Draft. Perhaps the stirring 2010 Olympics had something to do with the increased interest in international hockey. Maybe people just like cheering for their country in any sport.
Whatever the case, the World Junior Championship is beginning to matter to hockey fans outside of Canada. Not in nearly as large a number, of course, but the difference between 2013 and 2008 is immense.
Coming up after the jump, some evidence…
When the U.S. beat Canada in the semifinals this year, there was excitement. No matter how big a hockey fan people are or aren’t, everyone seems to know that a U.S. victory over Canada on frozen water is significant. So perhaps that stoked some extra intrigue.
Late Friday night, I began seeing tweets about bars opening up so fans could watch the gold-medal game. I thought, maybe only a handful of bars in the hometowns of the players were involved. Nope. More.
Bars in Buffalo, Boston, Columbus, St. Louis, Dubuque, Eau Claire, Duluth, and beyond were going to have people come in at 8 a.m. ET to watch a hockey game played by teenagers. Again, this is at eight o’clock in the morning watch hockey played by kids that a lot of those people had never heard of. In the United States of America.
I was stunned. More stunned however when the pictures rolling in.
In Buffalo, Coles had folks packed “wall-to-wall”
@chrismpeters Other angle, same bar RT @shanv11: Coles bar in #Buffalo for the #2013WJC Gold medal game…at 8am! twitter.com/ShanV11/status…
— Philip Kneitinger (@PhilBBG) January 5, 2013
Here’s another angle at Coles, as there were multiple submissions from this spot.
@chrismpeters Buffalo RT @akulykusrt: @mechaphil 200 people its wall to wall #WJHC2013 twitter.com/akulykUSRT/sta…
— Philip Kneitinger (@PhilBBG) January 5, 2013
In Columbus, the hometown of U.S. Juniors Connor Murphy and Sean Kuraly, R Bar opened to host the hockey hungry.
RT @derdrache: Awesome turnout for SWE/USA at @rbar_ad!! #GoUSAtwitter.com/derdrache/stat…” @julierobenhymer @chrismpeters Columbus — CBJ Prospects (@CBJProspects) January 5, 2013
One gentleman got especially patriotic at this location. Although, hey… buddy… that better be something American in that goalie mask…
Video of the R Bar’s reaction to the American hockey victory can be found here and also here. SPOILER ALERT: There is a USA chant.
Out in Minnesota, young hockey players playing in out-of-town tournaments couldn’t miss watching the game.
Up in Roseau, the dads found some time to sneak in some World Junior watching before their own hit the ice.
@chrismpeters Bar up in Roseau, MN. 16 team bantam A tourney in town. Full house. twitter.com/ce20/status/28… — Corey Erickson (@ce20) January 5, 2013
But what if you had to be in the rink? No big deal in Minnesota.
Here you go @chrismpeters RT @zachhalverson: #2013WJC, my brother’s hockey game, and a Diet Coke. #greatness twitter.com/zachhalverson/…
— Brian Halverson (@BrianHalverson_) January 5, 2013
Lucky for the folks in Boston, Banshee is used to early mornings as a hot spot to watch live soccer from Europe. They found a place for the hockey faithful.
@chrismpeters here’s the crew at @bansheeboston twitpic.com/bspp6b — CorneliusHardenbergh (@HBAdventure) January 5, 2013
And yes, even in Dubuque, Iowa, fans had a chance to track former Fighting Saints Johnny Gaudreau and Riley Barber as they went for gold. Note the slick early-90s USA jersey.
@chrismpeters Small but passionate group of about 12 at Champs in Dubuque twitter.com/joeyfrayne/sta…
— Joey Frayne (@joeyfrayne) January 5, 2013
And finally, this entry, also from Minnesota.
@chrismpeters first thing my wife said when we got the hospital to have baby #1, does our room TV have #WJHC2013twitter.com/RLeppi/status/…
— Ryan Leppi (@RLeppi) January 5, 2013
Name suggestions for the child include Rocco, Johnny, Jacob or Seth. Unless the baby is a girl. Goldie might work.
Great post, Chris.
Enjoying the afterglow–especially here in hockey hungry Toronto–as much as Seth’s Mom is relishing her son’s prescience.
Congrats to coach Housley/his staff, and our lads.
It doesn’t hurt to have USA Hockey alums who have achieved success, or at least recognition, at the WJC, who are now bona fide NHL players, and to have those alums be out on social media actively being excited about the tournament. Especially as the 2010 WJC class is starting to make a dent in the NHL, of course people are going to be more aware.
Most Americans didn’t pay attention before, but, as hockey grows in the US, that is changing.
Our team played an honest, skilled game. They weren’t angels, but they weren’t pushovers, either. As angry as I was, initially, with the penalties in the first US-Canada game of this tourney, I came to realize that this team was sending a message, especially to Canada: We’re not backing down or off. If you hit us, we’ll hit back, even if it costs us a game. You don’t scare or intimidate us.
Canadians, especially, have been complaining about the officiating and harsh punishments given out. The IIHF, I believe, was also sending a message, that Canadian thug hockey would result in the penalties and suspensions it deserves. As a result of this crackdown on ice thuggery (melodramatic and facetious in one shot!), Americans got to see the best of what our team, and this tournament had to offer.
The question, though, is whether Canada will if their teams continue to miss the mark.
Oh, yeah–love the story about the couple having a baby! Good luck and congratulations!
I personally love international hockey and now that the USA as good or better than most other countries its even more appealing. The arrogance of Canadian fans was well deserved over the years but now we have the talent to match up with anyone, anywhere, anytime.