Will Buffalo snooze through the World Juniors?

With just a few days to spare it's more than a little disappointing that there's very little buzz in Buffalo about the World Junior Championships. Gee-whiz, folks, what's not to get excited about?

The World Juniors are the stage where youngsters from the top ten hockey-playing nations square off for the right to be called the world's best 17-and-under players. Many of these kids are future NHL stars and they've broken their backs for the opportunity to try out for their country's top junior team. In Canada especially, the WJC parallels the Stanley Cup in importance.

In short, it's kind of a big deal.

HSBC Arena is prepped and ready to roll in the tournament which runs from December 26-January 2. There are flags, banners, photos and everything short of Vegas-style, neon flashing signs heralding the tourney's arrival. Yet, outside of the arena's confines, I haven't heard too much about it, save for the odd radio/TV spot. Hmmm.

Buffalo is one of America's top hockey markets. We may not be Massachusetts, Minnesota or Michigan, but I'd wager that if the Kings played the Capitals in the Cup next June, WNY would clobber both of those outposts in the Nielsen's. We consider ourselves passionate about the game, and we've produced some big-time talent (Patrick Kane, anyone?). WNY has come a long way since the Knox brothers brought us our Sabres.

I'd understand the lack of fervor about the WJCs if this were Richmond, VA, or even another NHL "market" like Miami, Tampa, Nashville, Raleigh, Phoenix or Dallas. Gomers in those cities wouldn't know Colton Orr from Bobby Orr. We're supposed to be different, but I'm left to wonder how many of us realize the U.S. boys are the defending champions—having beaten Canada last year, nonetheless!

Forget the Bills and Sabres for a week. The former will stagger into the final weeks with ugly losses to the Jets and Patriots; the latter will astound with an important win before settling back into mediocre efforts during their upcoming West Coast swing. 

These kids from around the world converging on the Queen City this week? You should check them out for a change. It sounds cliche, but they're not playing for a bonus or contract extension, rather for love of both the game and their country.

I'd love to have the World Juniors return someday--someday soon. Businesses around Buffalo will, too. It's time to really get into this thing, unless we want the tournament to land elsewhere. We deserve this honor, no question about it, but do we appreciate it as much as we should?



John Hakes, 34, lives in Tonawanda with his wife, Jessica. A 15-year Buffalo area resident, he has written for a series of publications in the region, including the Buffalo News and the Niagara Gazette.

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