Assistant Executive Director of USA Hockey, Jim Johannson recently sat down with Sabres.com in an exclusive interview to discuss the 2011 World Junior Championships and what makes Western New York a good candidate to host the event.
What exactly does Buffalo has to offer as a host city?
"I think the facilities here and being in an NHL building with 18,000-plus seats are two big things Buffalo has to offer as well as the hockey fever that really is around the area - Understanding the World Juniors and the level of players that are at the championship is huge."
What was the deciding factor in choosing Buffalo?
"I don’t think it was really one thing. We knew it was going to work here.
"We came in, had our visit with the structure of people that they have in place behind it and in the end we asked ‘Do we think it will be a successful event there?’
We know it will be. The overall good feeling that we had tied into everything to make our decision."
Besides revenue for the area, what does this tournament generate?
"Obviously a huge fan-base comes to the championships - the best in the world will be here over the course of that time. We hope it’s a memorable event for the Buffalo area and certainly something they are going to take pride in for not only the time the championship is held here, but for years to come."
Last time the United States hosted the World Junior Championships, talent such as Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin headlined the tournament. What can fans expect in 2011?
"Within the US program we have some really standout players that you will see in the upcoming drafts. Ryan Bourque and players of that caliber playing in our program now make it exciting... we have a strong group of players coming up and certainly have had a lot of success in the past years which is something that will build heading into the 2011 championship.Buffalo previously hosted Youth Nationals. Did that have any affect on the decision?
"It really gets back to the importance of volunteers at these events. It’s 10 days, 31 games and with everything that goes into that you need that core structure there to support it. Talk about the importance of this tournament and what it means for hockey fans.
"You have to have facilities, but you have to have people too. Buffalo demonstrated that commitment at the youth level that this area can support a big event."
"It’s the best in the world in the prime of their season. For USA Hockey to be able to host in a top NHL market just adds to the exposure.
"It’s the top stars of the game, the tournament has become that, and what fans see is really exciting hockey played by great players... who have the potential to make the jump to the NHL. They make some mistakes because they are young players, but it still makes for really exciting hockey."
What would you say to a casual hockey fan in the area who is on the fence about going to the event?
"How often do you get to come out and root for your country? It’s Team USA. I know even the die-hard Sabres fan, they want the chance to cheer for their country. It’s the world coming to Buffalo, NY and it’s exciting that way.
"For fans, they can become patriotic and at the same time cheer for some great players with aspirations and dreams of having success wearing the USA jersey."
What has surprised you the most about the World Junior Championship since becoming involved in USA Hockey?
"The caliber of play by all the countries. Fans obviously know about some of the NHL players, but come watch a Swiss team play. It’s a good hockey country. What is your best memory of this tournament?
"To understand how well all these countries play - everyone knows USA, Canada and Russia. They know a little bit about Sweden and Finland - but to watch the top players at that level, at the height of their season, it’s exciting hockey."
"Winning it in 2004. It was our breakthrough year. To be with the group as committed as they were and to be rewarded for their success - Knowing all the aches and pains they went through to win that championship - you gain a huge appreciation of how hard it is to win this tournament.
"That one is forever endeavored with me. I played in this tournament twice and never had a chance at a medal, so it’s exciting to see USA Hockey as a whole be that competitive on the world stage."