World Junior Hockey Championship set to open against backdrop of continuing Hockey Canada struggles

World Junior Hockey Championship set to open against backdrop of continuing Hockey Canada struggles

Canadian Shane Wright celebrates a goal against Switzerland during the third period of pre-tournament IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship hockey action December 19 in Moncton, NB.Ron Ward / The Canadian Press

The Ice Hockey World Junior Championship returns to its traditional Boxing Day start on Monday, only this time under very different circumstances.

The flagship event of Hockey Canada, which will feature the best young players from around the world, comes amid the aftermath of alleged sexual assault scandals that have rocked the organization over the past eight months.

As fans return to their seats, sponsors remain absent and a cloud remains over the host organization as they struggle to re-determine their direction with new leadership.

Nearly 90 percent of tickets for Moncton and Halifax games have already been sold, a significant increase from the average of fewer than 2,000 spectators attending tournament games when they were held in Edmonton during the summer.

Fans are dying to catch a glimpse of one of Canada’s strongest teams in years, led by Connor Bedard and Shane Wright, both considered generational talents. The Canadians won each of their pre-moncton exhibition competitions over Switzerland and Slovakia. They will play their first group game against the Czech Republic in Halifax on Monday evening.

“All the support from the fans at Moncton has been incredible,” said Team Canada captain Wright earlier in the week. “They’ve been cheering us on since we’ve been here and as players we love that. It’s nice to be on home soil and to have Canadian fans cheering us on.”

Big sponsors have not shown such enthusiasm. They canceled the tournament over the summer – it was postponed from last winter after players from several teams were infected with COVID-19 – and still remain on the fringes.

The Bank of Nova Scotia, Tim Hortons, Telus, Esso and others first suspended support for Hockey Canada events last June in response to the organization’s handling of allegations of alleged sexual assault in 2018.

In October, corporate partners further distanced themselves from Hockey Canada after parliamentary hearings in Ottawa, at which then-interim chairwoman Andrea Skinner defended the organization’s actions and opposed calls for a leadership change.

Within days, a number of sponsors announced that they would receive all financial support for Hockey Canada’s men’s program for the entire 2022-23 season. Canadian Tire went one step further and permanently severed ties with the organization.

Following that announcement, Sobeys confirmed it had chosen not to renew its Hockey Canada sponsorship – which was limited to the women’s national team – when that deal expired in June, and said company executives were “disgusted” by the allegations and the organization’s response. Hankook Tire has also permanently ended its sponsorship.

And Hockey Canada’s official outfitter, Bauer Hockey, supported the men’s teams and provided free equipment such as helmets and gloves, among other things. It said profits from future purchases of equipment by Hockey Canada would be diverted to programs for underrepresented groups.

Skinner, CEO Scott Smith and the entire board then resigned. Sponsors last weekend welcomed the election of a new board that will oversee Hockey Canada and hire a CEO, but some are waiting to see what action its leaders take before considering restoring support.

In an email statement, Bank of Nova Scotia chief marketing officer Laura Curtis Ferrera wrote that the election of a new board represents “progress” and reiterated previous calls for keeping the sport “at a higher level”.

“We believe ice hockey is at an important point in its history,” Curtis Ferrera wrote. “…We believe this is an important step in the long journey of regaining Canadian confidence and we, along with hockey fans coast to coast, will continue to hold Hockey Canada accountable.

“Currently, our Hockey Canada sponsorship hiatus remains in effect while we await strategic direction from the new board and selection of a new leadership team. Ultimately, our position is still unwavering: the time for change is long overdue.”

Tim Hortons spokesman Michael Oliveira also confirmed that no changes were made to the brand’s plans to withhold sponsorship support for the 2022-23 season. He declined further comments.

Additionally, BDO Canada continues to pause its partnership, and in a statement the company said it will monitor Hockey Canada’s progress on the measures the organization outlined in July to prevent future abuse.

Chevrolet Canada also confirmed its sponsorship remains on hold, but hailed the new board as a “step in the right direction.”

“We love hockey and will continue to review our support and sponsorships to ensure this organization lives up to our values ​​under its new leadership,” spokeswoman Jennifer Wright wrote in an emailed statement.

Originally, the tournament was supposed to be held in Russia, but the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) relocated it and banned the Russian team in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. In May, Halifax and Moncton were announced as co-hosts.

Usually, host cities have several years to prepare, but Halifax and Moncton were already working on a joint proposal for a future event and quickly came up empty.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage does not regret the decision. Team Canada will play its four preliminary round games at its 10,500 seat Scotiabank Center and all are sold out.

“People get pumped for it,” Savage said. “Downtown Halifax and Dartmouth are going to be crazy. I’m happy to host it. We will put on a good show.”

Team USA will play its first four games at the 8,800-seat Avenir Center in Moncton.

John Wishart, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, said he was shocked this summer watching games in Edmonton in front of very few spectators.

“In contrast, there was no space here on Monday,” said Wishart, referring to Canada’s 6-0 exhibition win over Switzerland. “The mood was great.”

Restaurants and hoteliers in both host cities are hoping for an economic upswing.

“After the last two and a half years of COVID, this is the gravy on the turkey,” Wishart said.

The summer replay in Edmonton went poorly as it came amid numerous allegations against Hockey Canada. The organization previously quietly settled a complaint with a 20-year-old woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by members of that year’s junior world team in 2018 after a fundraiser in London, Ontario. The complainant claimed $3.55 million in damages; It is not clear how much she received.

In a recent filing with the Ontario Court of Justice, London Police investigators said they had reasonable grounds to believe five players took part in a group attack against them.

In addition, an alleged sexual assault on a woman in Halifax by members of the Canadian team at the 2003 World Junior Championships is being investigated. This week, a Halifax Police spokesman said investigators are pursuing numerous avenues and will take the time needed to conduct a thorough investigation.

The Nova Scotia and New Brunswick governments urged Hockey Canada players, coaches and staff to undergo an expanded screening process and complete sexual violence and consent training. Managers within the IIHF, the world governing body of ice hockey, also had to undergo the same training.

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