The wait is over for hockey fans in Red Deer and central Alberta.
The announcement that the city was to host the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships first came in December 2018. Red Deer would play the host to Canada’s holiday tradition for the first time since 1995.
The 2022 event, which starts on Dec. 26, was initially supposed to be held in Red Deer last year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was played solely in Edmonton.
With this year’s tournament just a few weeks away, excitement is palpable. The preliminary roster of 35 players, most of whom will make up Canada’s entry at the tournament was announced Wednesday, and ticket packages for those hoping to see the event, go on sale Friday.
“There’s quite a bit of buzz the last week or so. We announced our invitees to camp which generated a lot of excitement, makes it more tangible for people,” said Riley Wiwchar, executive director for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships Thursday.
“We expect it to really pick up momentum. I think there’s this pent-up energy in Red Deer, not being able to host last year.”
Wiwchar explained about 80 per cent of the tickets for the event are sold out, with the majority of ticket holders who purchased packages for the 2021 event, deciding to keep their tickets for this year.
Fans can buy full 16-game ticket packages starting Friday, with single-game tickets potentially being available down the road.
“That’ll be based on what’s available,” he said.
From a local perspective, Tourism Red Deer executive director Rene Rondeau is thrilled the tournament will finally be played in the city.
“We’re super excited. It’s nice to see an event of this magnitude come back to our area,” said Rondeau, who added Tourism Red Deer will be putting out a brochure to guide hockey fans to local attractions and restaurants ahead of the tournament.
“To us, it’s being ready to host and making sure we’re ready to help (visitors) and help them connect to the local attractions, things to do, places to eat.”
Rondeau said businesses in the area have got a taste of what a somewhat return to normal will look like, with visitors coming to town for both Agri-Trade and the CFR last month. He hopes the World Juniors can be even bigger for local businesses.
“With the World Juniors, it’s another level. It’s a stepping stone back to somewhat normal.”
For those who aren’t lucky enough to get a seat inside the Peavey Mart Centrium, there will be plenty to do around the rink as well.
Wiwchar added Hockey Canada will be setting up an “Ice Barn” at Westerner Park for a full-on fan experience.
“It’s basically going to be a giant entertainment venue where we’re going to have live bands, big screens with all the Edmonton-based games,” he said.
“It’s going to be open to the public for free. You don’t need a game ticket. We’re going to want everyone to come down, hang out and be a part of this.”
Games will be played at noon and 5 p.m. in Edmonton and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in Red Deer, for wall-to-wall hockey.
With the schedule staggered for the tournament, fans can watch a game at the Centrium, but also catch the Canada game (all of their games will be played in Edmonton) on the big screen in between. Canada, which will be in Group A, plays in Edmonton, along with Germany, Czech Republic, Finland, Austria.
Meanwhile, Russia, Sweden, U.S.A., Slovakia and Switzerland will make up group B, which will be played in Red Deer.
Hockey Canada will also have family activities outside the rink in Red Deer, like tobogganing and an area with ice sculptures and fire pits.
Hockey Canada has also been hosting a trophy tour, which started in November and visited communities across the province. The trophy will be in Whitecourt from Dec. 4-5, Frog Lake from Dec. 11-12, before arriving in Edmonton and Red Deer on Dec. 18 and 19.
Hockey Canada is also encouraging hockey fans to wear a jersey on Dec. 17, a province-wide jersey day.
In addition, Hockey Canada will announce a collection of pre-tournament games next week, that will be played in communities across Central Alberta.
Overall, Wiwchar said Hockey Canada can’t wait to finally welcome the fans back to international hockey.
“We always see the World Juniors as the holiday tradition for Canadians. Being able to host in Red Deer and be able to give people a chance to come together and cheer, in a safe manner obviously – I think we’re just excited to bring back fans,” Wiwchar said.
“This is the first international tournament with fans from a hockey perspective… We’re excited to do that and excited to be able to show off Red Deer to the world.”