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Toronto, Montreal to co-host WJC in 2015, 2017

by Arpon Basu /

MONTREAL -- Two of the NHL's bitterest rivals will be teaming up to showcase the world's best junior-hockey players when Montreal and Toronto serve as the host cities for the 2015 and 2017 editions of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

The Canadiens and Maple Leafs will take part in the organization of the two events, along with Hockey Canada, Hockey Quebec and the Ontario Hockey Federation.

"It's two of the biggest hockey markets in the world, and the expectations will be high," Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said following a press conference in Montreal on Thursday announcing the news. "We're going to deliver on those expectations."

While Molson said the Canadiens and Maple Leafs are "good friends" off the ice, new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke said it's a good thing this partnership between the two clubs is coming so early in his tenure in Toronto.

"I get Montreal and Toronto as cities cooperating, but it's unique that the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs have come together for this," Leiweke said. "I probably don't have the blood in me as much as I will in the near future, so it's good we got this out of the way quickly before it's blue instead of red."

Hockey Canada made the official announcement at press conferences in Montreal and Toronto on Thursday, and CEO Bob Nicholson said he was very excited at the thought of holding this event in the two biggest cities in Canada.

"This is an exciting day for hockey fans in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario as well as throughout Canada," Nicholson said. "These two cities have a proud hockey tradition and have shown interest in this event for many years. We look forward to welcoming the hockey world in Montreal and Toronto."

The cities will split the preliminary rounds each year, with one group playing at Bell Centre in Montreal and the other at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The medal round will be played in Toronto in 2015 and in Montreal in 2017, while Canada will play its preliminary-round games in the city that is not hosting the medal round. Canada also will serve as host for the WJC in 2019 and 2021, but Nicholson said Hockey Canada likely will not begin considering who will host those events until 2015 at the earliest.

The last time the tournament was held in Canada was 2012, when Calgary and Edmonton co-hosted. Nicholson said that anywhere between 180,000 and 185,000 people were turned away for tickets that year, and he wants to find a way to make sure more people find a way into two of the largest hockey arenas in the country to see the world's best in action.

This will be the first time Toronto has hosted the tournament, and it will be the first time since 1978, when a 16-year-old Wayne Gretzky played for Canada, that Montreal will serve as host.

"I think it's going to be special," Nicholson said. "You saw what happened in Calgary and Edmonton -- we had 180,000 people on a waiting list to get tickets. We've got to make sure we get as many people as we can in to see these games, and that's going to be something we'll work on throughout the summer."

Nicholson said that in 2012, games involving non-Canadian teams had an average attendance of 14,500.

"We want to have that even higher," he said, "so that players from all the other countries, not just Canada, are playing in front of full buildings."

Nicholson estimated the combined economic windfall for the two events at $200 million, but he considered that a very conservative number.

"I throw out $200 million fairly easily, because when I look at Calgary/Edmonton it was $90 million," he said. "I think if we do this right, with all of the other platforms, $200 million might be a soft number. I certainly feel it can get higher than that.

"We left 180,000 or 185,000 people on the outside looking in in Calgary and Edmonton."

The financial windfall would benefit grassroots programs in Canada, primarily in Ontario and Quebec, while the International Ice Hockey Federation and its members also will benefit from the potential for additional revenue coming from the two events at world-class facilities.

But ultimately, this provides a window for Hockey Canada to capture the hearts and minds of young Canadians, who increasingly are choosing other sports instead of hockey. Nicholson wants to show those young people the game being played at its highest level, and he believes that will help convince them to take part in Canada's national game.

"The focus is on making sure that all kids want to play this game," Nicholson said. "We have different challenges today -- our demographics are changing, we have a lot of immigrants coming to our country. We want to make sure they want to be part of hockey and part of the hockey culture in Canada."

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