The president of the International Ice Hockey Federation says lowering ticket prices and boosting the number of French-speaking players on Canada's roster could help improve attendance at the 2017 world junior championship in Montreal.
"It's a big city," Rene Fasel told a news conference Tuesday, the final day of the 2016 tournament in Helsinki, Finland. "I disagree that maybe Montreal people are only there for les Canadiens. They love the game. I think the pricing of the tickets was an issue in Montreal. I think that they have to have a look on the prices and people will come."
Fasel was speaking on a panel with Finnish hockey federation president Kalervo Kummola and tournament chair Frank Gonzalez.
Ticket sales were disappointing in Montreal during the 2015 world junior tournament, which the city co-hosted with Toronto. Montreal held preliminary round games while Toronto handled the playoff rounds.
The two cities will co-host the 2017 event, which begins in December, with Montreal hosting the medal round and Toronto taking on the preliminary round.
As Gonzalez spoke about how he believes that snowbirds — Canadians heading to the southern United States in the winter months — shouldn't affect ticket sales in Montreal, Fasel and Kummola interrupted with another suggestion.
"Maybe there should be more French-speaking players on the Canadian team," Kummola said to Fasel within range of the microphones.
Fasel then turned to Gonzalez, saying that the Finnish hockey president had a good point. Kummola then laughed and repeated: "Maybe there should be more French-speaking players on the Canadian team."
Gonzalez, who was born in Barcelona but raised in Toronto before returning to Spain replied: "They have a lot. They have quite a few."
Canada had four French Canadians on its roster this year: forwards Julien Gauthier and Anthony Beauvillier, defenceman Thomas Chabot and goaltender Samuel Montembeault, who was a late addition to the team after Mackenzie Blackwood's suspension made a third goalie necessary. Montembeault did not play.
Hockey Canada officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bell Centre too big?
Fasel also suggested that perceptions of attendance at the 2015 event may have been skewed by the size of Montreal's Bell Centre.
"The problem is also that if you have such a big arena, we still had 15-16,000 people, but in a 22,000-seat arena it looks not full," said Fasel. "It's still big, bigger than Hartwell Arena[where the medal round of the 2016 event was held.]
"Pricing, once again, is an issue. Good work was done by [Kummola] and his team here in Finland. The pricing is good. Normal, so people come and watch. This is important."
Fasel also said that Canadian fans' disappointment in their team's quarter-final exit is an issue of perception.
"The Canadian team is so successful with the women, with the men, with the seniors, juniors, under-18, you win all the time. Mostly all the time," said Fasel. "And if sometimes you don't make the semifinal it's like it's a catastrophe. Me as a former [president of the Swiss hockey federation], I'm happy when we can stay in the A pool.
"It's a good signal for Canada that they have to work hard to win a championship. You have to earn the success."