Sports · Toronto

Bucket List – World Junior Championships

What a fantastic experience!
What a fantastic experience!

**I wrote this post in January but forgot to post it… oh well, better late than never!**

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a while… since the Christmas holidays in fact but life got in the way. However belated, I want to tell – and show you – about my fabulous experience crossing off one of my top 10 items on my Bucket List (yep, I have a bucket list… hm, that’s a great idea for a post). In fact, it was #3 until I checked it off. Only watching a hockey game in each of the major hockey playing countries (#1 for years) and covering the 2018 Winter Olympics (#2) in Pyeongchang, South Korea were/are higher. And no, not everything on my bucket list is hockey-related… just 4 of the top 10.

Gold medal game - Canada vs. Russia
Gold medal game – Canada vs. Russia

So why was watching the World Juniors live on my bucket list?

I’m a huge hockey fan and watching the World Juniors has always been a part of my family’s Christmas holiday tradition so it’s no wonder that attending the WJC (World Junior Championship) was on my bucket list. It’s been right up there with watching a hockey game in each of the major hockey playing countries – Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the US, Czech Republic and Slovakia – for years (#2 on my bucket list is a much newer ambition).

So when Hockey Canada announced in early 2013 that they were holding a lottery to have the chance to buy tickets to the 2015 tournament, which was being held jointly in Toronto and Montreal, I instantly entered my name, my brother’s name, and both my parents names. Yep, I entered all four of us separately to quadruple our chances. I really, really wanted this. And yeah, this all started back in 2013.

Fast forward several months and I got an email saying I could buy the early Montreal package (14 games) and my brother gets an email saying he could buy the early Toronto package (19 games). This was great but also kinda funny as I live in Toronto and he lives in Montreal. We switched (he bought the Montreal one and I bought the Toronto package, along with my parents who live in neither city but closer to Toronto) and everyone was happy. Happy…no, I wasn’t happy. I was ecstatic and literally bouncing off the walls with excitement – 19 hockey games in 10 days, so cool. Definitely worth spending my vacation money (and time) on.

WJC2015 round robin game - Switzerland vs. Russia
WJC2015 round robin game – Switzerland vs. Russia

The tournament

Fast forward again and it’s December 26, 2014 and the tournament is about to start. I’m in heaven. Now we did have to make a couple of adjustments to our regular holiday traditions. For example, instead of going to my parents for Christmas (I would usually stay for 5-6 days and then head back to Toronto for New Year’s with my friends), they came to my place for the two weeks (Christmas plus the 10 day tournament). And it meant no New Year’s plans but really, when it meant that I got to watch Canada play for the gold (not that night but a few nights later), it wasn’t much of an issue. Besides, I had a Christmas tree all decorated and my parents brought LOTS of food so our holidays were basically the same, just in a new location and minus my brother.

And then December 26th finally came (first time Boxing Day was more exciting than Christmas) and it was time to head to the Air Canada Centre – home of my favourite hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs – for the first game. Our tickets weren’t great but they also weren’t that bad either and there is absolutely nothing like watching a game live – hearing all the cheers, feeling the excitement of the crowd. I still get chills. So many people all cheering for Canada.

Go Canada GO! GOLD!
Go Canada GO! GOLD!

Things that stood out for me

Watching Canada win gold! There is nothing like watching your country play your favourite sport live on an international stage. Except of course, being there while they win gold on home ice!

This year’s team was amazing, so very talented, and they played so well together that it was hard to believe that they don’t regularly. The gold was definitely deserved! Not only were they super skilled – Connor McDavid and Max Domi were among my favourite players to watch, so much skill – and definitely earned the gold despite the nail-bitter of a gold medal game, but they had class. Things like allowing the Denmark team to salute the fans after their quarter-final game (something that’s not normally done by the losing team) were lovely and stuck in my mind long after the whistle.

Quarter-finals - Canada vs. Denmark
Quarter-finals – Canada vs. Denmark

The Denmark team. Speaking of the Denmark team, remember I said the games were split between Montreal and Toronto? Well, Canada did their round robin games in Montreal so we didn’t see them until they came for the quarter-finals. This meant I needed a team to cheer for in the round robin in Toronto… enter the underdogs, Denmark. Denmark isn’t really an elite hockey country but man, did they play with a lot of heart and were a ton of fun to cheer for. It was so cool watching them get their first ever win (over Switzerland), survive relegation for the first time and make it to the quarterfinals for the first time (they lost 8-0 to Canada). A huge success and a lot of ‘firsts’! I was totally cheering for them, until the Canada game, of course.

WJC2015 round robin game - Sweden vs. Russia
WJC 2015 round robin game – Sweden vs. Russia

Watching the Leafs’ prospects. I’m a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan (yeah, I’ve heard all the teasing and I know my team has never won the Stanley Cup in my lifetime… but there’s always next year!) and it’s always fun to check out Leafs’ prospects on the world stage. This year I concentrated mostly on Swedish player, William Nylander. He impressed with his skills with the puck (dude has some mad offensive skills) even if he appeared to float at times (and is perhaps a little weaker defensively). But hey, he’s only 18.

That is one happy crowd! The whole ACC was a sea of red and happiness!
That is one happy crowd! The whole ACC was a sea of red and happiness!

The Canadian fans. The vast majority of the fans at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto were there to watch Canada and were well-behaved. Over the course of the tournament, they/we did several things that made me proud to be a Canadian hockey fan. What, you ask? Things like ovations for Denmark’s goalie, George Sorensen, when he was pulled (he played great) and Slovakia’s goalie, Denis Godla, after his brilliant play against Canada in the semi-finals. I’ve always been a goalie fan but love the respect we showed the goalies on their great plays.

And on one of our subway trips home after a day/night of hockey, a bunch of fans spontaneously broke into “Oh Canada” (our national anthem)… which is something I’ve never seen before and it certainly impressed my parents – drunk fans aren’t always belligerent, lol.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at the gold metal game... and not too far from our seats
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at the gold metal game… and not too far from our seats

Things that I wish didn’t happen

Only one thing – all three of us came down with the flu on New Year’s Eve and even though the next day was a rest day, we all missed a game – a regulation game, not a vital one – so I only ended up watching 18 games, not 19 games, in 10 days. Darn! But since getting sick was the only bad thing about the entire experience, I would say this was pretty much one of my best vacations – or staycations – ever!

Oh yeah, there was also one obnoxious dude shouting vulgarities at the few Russian fans and the players. I may always want Russia to lose (come on, they are Canada’s biggest competitor in hockey) but there is no reason to be vulgar or crass. Just cheer for your team, don’t be rude to theirs. And why scream at other fans? Enjoy the game and let them enjoy watching their team lose. I love rivalries and pretty much always love seeing a Canada-Russia match up for the gold but I want to enjoy the game, not listen to some dumbass be crazy rude. Good on the ACC security to fairly quickly escort him out.

Gold medal game - Canada vs. Russia
Gold medal game – Canada vs. Russia

Final Thoughts

The. Best. Vacation. Ever. Even getting crazy sick with the flu couldn’t dim my enthusiasm about the tournament. It was literally a dream come true and one that I’m immensely happy included a gold metal… because that was just icing on the cake. I was in a hockey fan’s paradise – so many fun games, so many great players, fabulous plays, sweet goals and “OMG, how did he stop that?” saves. And did I mention Canada won the Gold! Truly, the. Best. Vacation. Ever.

Curious what else is on my bucket list? Or what other things I’ve already checked off? Check back soon for a new post 🙂

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