The 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship will be held in Buffalo, beating out St. Louis and Pittsburgh for the right to host the tournament.
That much isn't surprising: USA Hockey awarded the tournament to Buffalo last time it came to the States, in 2011, largely because of its proximity to the Canadian border. Canadians get behind this tournament more than any other nation, and by putting the tournament in Buffalo, USA Hockey can guarantee large crowds at every game. Buffalo is also home to the new HARBORCENTER development, which gives the city an extra downtown facility to host tournament games. Other places can't offer that. You can argue that the decision to hold the game in Buffalo was money driven vs. the idea
What is surprising is that the Friday press conference to announce this news will be held on the 18-yard line of Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL's Bills. Yes, that's an outdoor facility. Yes, it was home to the 2008 Winter Classic between the Sabres and Penguins. And yes, it appears as though the 2018 World Junior Championship will feature an outdoor hockey game.
If all goes according to plan, that game will be a head-to-head battle between the United States and Canada, according to multiple reports. That can't be set in stone just yet because the game will be part of group play, and we don't know if Canada and USA will be placed in the same group for the 2018 tournament. It's a good bet, though -- the teams have been in the same group every year since 2012, including the upcoming 2016 tournament in Finland later this month.
I love outdoor hockey games. I've been lucky enough to attend five of them, and they were all incredible experiences. I'm sure that'll be the case for the 70,000 people who attend this game at the 2018 WJC.
But none of those other games mattered as much as a World Juniors game does. Sure, NHL, AHL, ECHL, and college hockey regular season games are important. Two points are on the line, etc.
But at the WJC, teams play just four games in group play. It's the most important annual international tournament in hockey, and to throw one of those four games out into the elements is a bad idea. We all know the complications that come with playing outside -- the ice surface is usually bad, the wind is a factor, lighting is a problem, and I don't know if you've heard, but sometimes Buffalo gets bad weather in December.
Could you imagine the NHL playing a postseason game outdoors, in Buffalo, in December? Could you imagine an Olympic game being played in those conditions?
Then there's the impact on the individual players: the WJC is a huge opportunity for these players to skate against the best under-20 players in the world while hopefully opening up the eyes of scouts from around hockey. Playing in the elements can impact the way players perform, and that's not something we should want on this kind of stage.
Outdoor games are great for hockey, and the outdoor game at the 2018 World Juniors will no doubt be a big event and a money maker. But it's a disservice to the players and a big time game that deserves to be played only under the best, most fair conditions.