Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Women's U18 attendance record likely in Zlín and Přerov

After two days of action at the IIHF U18 Women's World Championship in Zlín and Přerov, the total attendance of the last three tournaments has already been eclipsed. With the event only one-third complete, they are over halfway to the tournament record, set in 2008 in Calgary.

"The public interest has surprised us in a very pleasant way," executive director Ondřej Šebek announced on the tournament's official website.

The championship opened on New Year's Eve and the first games began at 1pm local time. Right away, it was apparent that organisers had underestimated what kind of crowds they'd draw. In the tournament's primary venue in Zlín, the host Czech team opted to use PSG Arena, a practice rink for the local Extraliga club that has seating for 429, rather than 7,000-seat Ludek Čajka Arena next door. Since last year's tournament in Stockholm averaged fewer than 200 fans per game, the feeling was there would be no atmosphere in the larger venue. The atmosphere has not been lacking in Zlín.

An overflow crowd watches Czech Republic-Sweden on New
Year's Eve. Photo Jiří Zaňát, u18wwc2012.com.
Arena staff were overwhelmed trying to find places for fans to watch, with the final attendance count being 860. In Přerov, an even more impressive total of 1400 came out to see Canada and Switzerland. The new arena in Přerov has seating for 1951, and can accommodate up to 3000 with standing room.

"Players and team officials both told us that they don't get atmosphere like this even in America," said Lubomír Svoboda, who is on the tournament organising committee and based in Přerov. "I promised the association in Prague that spectators will come out in Přerov, but 1400 people, that surprised us all."

"The first game in Zlín surprised us a bit; we did not expect so much interest," admitted Šebek. "However, we made some adjustments for the second game so that all spectators could choose a place from where to watch the game."

After eight games in two days, the tournament's total attendance so far is 6060, for an average of 758 per game. By comparison, the total gates from the last three tournaments in Stockholm, Chicago and Füssen have been 3284, 4270 and 4810, respectively. The inaugural U18 women's championship, held in Calgary in 2008, drew a total of 9872.

On the ice, things are going more according to pre-tournament expectations, with Canada and the USA dominating their respective groups. On Tuesday, the US plays the host Czech squad and the Americans are anticipating the atmosphere in the building. 

"It's gonna be pretty loud and we expect the Czechs to be pumped for it," said forward Anne Pankowski. "Everyone's pretty excited."

The Czech Republic-USA game begins at 19:00 CET, 1pm ET, 10am PT. At the exact same time, Canada plays Finland in Přerov. The medal round will all be played in Zlín, with quarterfinals on Wednesday, semifinals on Friday and medal games on Saturday. 

For the schedule, game recaps and other information, visit the tournament's website at u18wwc2012.com/eng/index.asp. Although there is no live television or internet coverage of the games, live, up-to-the-minute commentary is available at eurolivescores.com.

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