City, Province did it big Again on World Stage


The StarPhoenixJanuary 8, 2010

And there it was: A lucky bounce, a race down the ice and a wrist shot, followed by a victory pump. Then, the ice-cold silence of the crowd.

For the thousands of fans on hand to watch the championship game at the Credit Union Centre, and for millions tuned in across Canada, it wasn't the end they'd expected or hoped for. It's suddenness in overtime -- a situation earned by two remarkable goals scored in the final three minutes of regulation time by the tournament's most valuable player, Jordan Eberle -- made the goal seem all the more surreal.

But while Canadians were crushed by the score, especially those in Saskatchewan who put their hearts and souls, not to mention their money and time, into this tournament for so long, it's worthwhile to think about what wasn't lost on Tuesday night.

It wasn't all that long ago that the country suggested Saskatchewan was too small to host an international tournament as important as the World Juniors.

Sure, it was in Saskatchewan that the competition was elevated 18 years ago from being a minor event on the calendar to what sports columnists from across Canada now call the Grey Cup of hockey because of the attention and audiences it attracts.

When Saskatoon and Saskatchewan set the bar higher than anyone thought it could go in 1991, people in the "big" cities apparently saw it as an aberration. A good job by the little guy on the Prairies, they suggested, but something that had to be carried on in centres with NHL arenas and an NHL-size fan base.

By all accounts -- controversy about the relative civility of fans booing the Yankees aside -- once again Saskatoon and Saskatchewan showed how to run the World Juniors. And we showed that, while we may be relatively small, that doesn't mean we aren't big.

For that, there are a lot of our neighbours who deserve to take a bow this week, and to whom many of us owe a solid pat on the back.

To be sure, this includes the event organizers like Jack Brodsky, president of the host committee, and the army of volunteers who paid with time and money to ensure the tournament would be a great success. But it also includes Saskatoon people, police and transit services, the media and fans who -- little by little, bit by bit -- also did their share to contribute to the success.

Early accounts indicate that revenues from this year's event will be among the top three in its history. Not a small feat, when one considers that the limited seating capacity meant ticket prices had to be high to meet the $12.5-million profit commitment by proponents of bringing the tournament to Saskatchewan.

They also had to come up with some innovative ideas, which included such things as real-time 50/50 ticket sales that let buyers see the pot grow before their eyes. This brought in more than three times the expected revenue.

And Team Canada played -- and sold team jerseys -- in Roughrider green. In a province whose ardent Rider fans account for more than half the revenue generated from all CFL merchandise sales, this was like a licence to print cash.

But it wasn't only on the profit side of the ledger that Saskatchewan showed it has what it takes to put on big events. This is a province, and Saskatoon is a city, regularly underestimated at the national level, but whose people routinely step up to disprove the stereotype.

Last week in the Globe and Mail, John Gray wrote a 4,000-word essay about the "birthplace of Canadian socialism," the province's flirtation with capitalist markets, the slings and arrows of a resource economy and the loss of Saskatchewan's innocence.

"Not so long ago, most Canadians felt a bit sorry for Saskatchewan, that poor cousin on the bald prairie," he wrote. That was before it shucked off the co-op-style Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in favour of a multi-national grain company rivaling Cargill, privatized its formerly Crown-owned potash company to an entity, that for a short time at least, was the king of the TSX, became a world-class producer of peas, lentils and mustard as well as its traditional crop of grains and in a country that calls itself an "energy superpower", produces as much conventional oil and gas as does Alberta.

By pushing the city and province to achieve above their class, organizers, volunteers and all involved helped show the world what it means to come from Saskatchewan.

Doug Huntley

Doug Huntley

CENTURY 21 Fusion
Contact Me