'Tis the season for holiday cheer and hockey
Every December, our country gets to witness the dreams of 23 young hockey players coming true as their chosen to represent Canada at one of the biggest hockey tournaments in the world. That being said, weíre also privvy to the heartbreak of those that are sent home.
Itís a circus that plays out in front of cameras, coaches and scouts, but what we see on TV is only half of it. Last year, when Calgary was hosting the tournament, I got a brief glimpse into just how high profile the juniors really are, sitting in the stands as a fan. This year, I got a front row seat to the madness.
Usually when thereís an event this big, Airdrie City View photographer Covy Moore and I double team it. He shoots, I interview and write. That was before Mr. Moore decided to shoot the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas the same week that Calgary was hosting the junior camp at Winsport. Talk about throwing me into the deep end without a life jacket. Fortunately, my panic attack only lasted a couple days and I found myself standing amongst the first line of hockey press. If Iím being honest, I felt like the kid who snuck into the teacherís lounge.
My first foray into covering the World Juniors was incredibly intimidating. On TV, we only see one view of the media scrums. We see a talking head. Flip the cameras around and youíd see a wall of reporters, a cluster of microphones and recorders and probably three or four industrial-sized television cameras.
As a rookie reporter, it isnít the quantity of media that was covering the junior camp that made it daunting, it was the quality.
I was standing in one of Red Deer Rebels forward Mathew Dumbaís scrums and Ryan Rishaug from TSN was standing right across from me. Roger Millions from Sportsnet was a few inches to my right. Jermain Franklin, another TSN great, was leaning up against a wall behind the scrum chatting with a French cameraman. The entire TSN junior panel, Gord Miller, Bob McKenzie and Ray Ferraro, were standing a few steps behind me. I couldíve reached back and kicked them in the shins without losing my spot.
Bob is way shorter in person and Ray looks like heís going to blow away with a strong gust of wind, but that doesnít make them any less intimidating.
In the sports journalism world, these guys are among the best so to say I was a bit star struck was an understatement. I may or may not have called my dad after I left Winsport out of breath because of how excited I was to have stood amongst my journalism idols. Emphasis on ďmay.Ē
It was the greatest learning experience of my brief career so far. I learned that no question is off limits when it comes to a tournament of this magnitude. The reporters clamoured for every little detail, like who would become captain, who would play on whose line, which goalie would start, how a player was feeling after being cut (answer: like crap). Every hit, goal and play was analyzed. It was fascinating.
Since I still have an irrational fear of press boxes (see my earlier analogy about the teacherís lounge) and because I had to shoot photos of the intrasquad game, I got a fanís view of how important the juniors are to Calgary and Canada.
Last year, when Calgary hosted the tournament, a respectable handful of devoted fans turned up for the intra squad game and exhibition games.
This year, it was standing room only when the full camp roster took the ice for the first time.
Fans, from three to 83 dressed in everything from vintage Canada jerseys to team sweaters, packed the stands at Winsport.
And itís not like they simply sat back and enjoyed the game. They were pouring over the rosters, predicting who will make the team and pointing out their favourite players. There was a crowd three people deep on the outskirts of the media area waiting for autographs as the players came out. Unsurprisingly, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers drew the most interest.
Canadians are desperate for hockey Ė plain and simple. Itís a game, but itís also a lifestyle. This yearís tournament is being held in Russia. I think my press pass got lost in the mail, but it means that Iíll get to enjoy the tournament just like everyone else Ė as a fan.
The only downside is that a 10-hour time difference between Saskatchewan and Russia means the games are being broadcast at 2:30 a.m. in Yorkton where I will be visiting my parents. Since my parents are still working on catching up with 21st century technology and havenít discovered PVR yet, my only solution is to stay off the Internet and away from Sportscentre until TSN rebroadcasts the game in the afternoon.
Last year, I predicted a bunch of World Junior-ish things and they all went horribly awry, so Iíll say only this. If the Red Maple can stop the Red Machine, we can be as good as gold. Oh, Canada.