Photo: IIHF

“Fingers crossed.” That’s how Garreth MacDonald, communications director for Hockey Nova Scotia, described how fans and players are feeling these days as the spread of the COVID-19 virus threatens to derail the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Women’s Championship planned for Truro and Halifax at the end of this month.

Years of planning and $650,000 in public money spent to secure an event which had promised to deliver thousands of fans and what Tourism department officials estimated to be $2.4 million dollars in revenue now appears left up to Fate.

For now, the blockbuster event scheduled to run from March 31-April 10 is ON, with all 10 women’s teams confirmed. The countries represented include Team Canada, USA, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Russia, and Switzerland. None of these countries are on the federal government’s “no fly” list;  that brief list includes only China, Iran, and South Korea.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) which is the sport’s governing body continues to monitor the virus situation “daily.”  Yesterday in response to questions from various media, Hockey Canada issued this statement:

In light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has cancelled six upcoming tournaments. At current there has been no change to the Women’s World Championship, which is set to be held in Halifax and Truro, N.S., from March 31 through April 10, 2020.

 The health and safety of our players, fans, staff, volunteers and the general public are of the utmost importance to Hockey Canada. We will, under the guidance of our chief medical officer, the chief medical officer of the Province of Nova Scotia and the IIHF, continue to monitor the development of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and stay in contact with our members, partners and stakeholders to determine any next steps that may be required.

Unanswered by Hockey Canada (or anybody else) is what happens should a player or official test positive for COVID-19, what if any type of testing the international arrivals will undergo upon their arrival in Canada, or whether any additional precautions will be taken.

Some answers may be forthcoming today at a news conference scheduled by Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang. Until now, about 37 cases of the virus in Canada have been detected and confined to Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. No deaths have been reported in Canada although the worldwide toll is now 3,387. Elderly people appear to be most at risk.

Between 350 and 400 participants (including players, coaches, and managers) are expected to arrive in Nova Scotia in two weeks’ time. Championship and medal-round games in Halifax will be hosted at the publicly-owned Metro Centre (but now splashed with the name of a bank), while round robin play will be divided between Halifax and Truro at the Community Centre (also publicly-owned, but bearing a sign of a telecommunications company).*

Ticket prices run between $10 and $16 a game or $179 for the entire package. TSN and RDS television networks will broadcast all the games played in Metro and the quarter final from Truro.

Most of the 10 teams will play exhibition games and conduct their training camps at seven locations around the province a week before the opening face-off on March 31. Liverpool will host Team Hungary, Yarmouth is paired with Denmark, and the German team will call New Glasgow home base. Antigonish will host the Czech Republic, Bridgewater gets Switzerland, and Team Russia will hunker down in Berwick. Team Canada will work out in Truro — Nova Scotians Jill Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull are hoping to be named to that roster — and Finland will practice in Amherst.

The idea is to give young hockey players (male and female) an opportunity to watch and learn from some of the world’s best players. University hockey teams will also get to play against the international teams in exhibition games. The first time Nova Scotia hosted this World Women’s event in 2004, the number of girls registering to play hockey jumped 50% the next season, according to Hockey Nova Scotia.

Uncertainty around whether the event will proceed is probably not helping ticket sales — the price of tickets has dropped from the $25 projected in the 2018 staff report to Halifax Regional Council to $16 for a seat at the Metro Centre. That June 2018 report was the basis on which HRM ponied up $300,000 to help secure Halifax as the co-host. The province put in $250,000 and another $100,000 was split between the Town of Truro and Municipality of Colchester to co-host the Championship.

Below is a summary of the forecasts generated in the June 2018 report to HRM Council on the World Women’s Hockey Championship:

• The event estimates a minimum of 82,000 in attendance for the duration of the Championship (the 2004 World Women’s event in Halifax had a final count of 92,000 & the 2016 in Kamloops had 49,000);

• The event will take on 250 volunteers which will provide over 1,000 volunteer hours over the course of the weekend;

• The event guarantees 500 room nights booked in Halifax by the event and estimates that over 1,500 room nights would be generated by attendees (2016 Kamloops STEAM identified $405,281 spent by visitors on accommodations and the 2018 Halifax budget identifies $310,000 to spent on accommodations for the event);

• Ticket prices will be in the range of $25 per game;

• The estimated budget for the event is $3,500,000 with the largest expenses in meals followed by accommodations;

• The event will offer sport development through player and coaching clinics, including the involvement of National team coaches and players; and

• The legacy fund (event profit) will invest in female hockey throughout the province, including growing the game in non-traditional markets.

Right now, there is a collective holding of breath hoping the IIHF World Women’s Championship will turn out to be a win and not a loss for organizers, fans, and taxpayers.

* Editor’s note: the Halifax Examiner does not accept advertising and will not provide advertising, free or otherwise, in news articles.

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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4 Comments

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  1. Loads of advertising, at least in the downtown core, but no one driving by the billboards / bus shelter signage would know it’s about a hockey tournament. (Studio photos of Canadian players but not in hockey gear, with the large print devoted to the annoyingly vague phrase “It’s Our Turn.” The tiny IIHF logo and small print finally reveals the tourney info.)

    I was looking forward to the tournament, even without reduced ticket prices, but now it’s just been cancelled. Boo.

  2. Most of the tickets I’ve seen are $25+, and many sold in packages before COVID-19 became a real issue. There are some $16 tickets for poor-quality seats in the non-Canada games, but even then most tickets are more. COVID fears might impact attendance but I doubt they’ve had much impact on ticket sales so far.

  3. This is very good hockey. I hope it goes ahead, but I also hope that there is a rigorous approach to screening and safety.

  4. That is quite a drop in prices – from $25 to $16 Unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think I’ve seen any advertising at all