My World Junior Diary – Day 08 – The Return Of The Upgrade

I figured out why I’ve been upgraded three times now (more on the third one later). My seat up in the 300 section is the opposite side to the TV camera’s, so they’re moving a bunch of people down so theres more people in the seats the cameras show and then the arena doesn’t look as empty as it has been.

But anyway, my last full day started as normal, woke up, shower, grabbed breakfast then come back to the room to write the latest blog entry before heading out.

With the Quarter-Finals of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship getting underway, the penultimate game in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre was the early game of the day, starting a 1pm. So I left my hotel around 11:40 for the 20 minute walk down to watch the Russians take on Denmark. I thought if I got there early enough I’d have a greater chance at my seat being upgraded but this game was actually pretty well sold so I stayed up in the 300s.

Denmark looked as though they were competing with the Russians but that all unraveled around 8 minutes in when Alexander Poulinin floated a puck into the Danish zone and Lasse Peterson just watched it go over his glove and into the net for the softest goal of the tournament and a 1 – 0 Russia lead. From that point, Russia were in the driving seat.

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Kirill Kaprizov netted twice with Pavel Karnaukhov netting the other as the Russians took a 4 – 0 lead. Kaprizov has easily been in the running for tournament MVP, leading the tournament with 7 goals and 2nd in total points with 10. Not bad for a guy who was a fifth round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2015 and only had 3 points in last years tournament in Finland.

So the Russians were the first team to make the final four, after the game I went to go find Gretzky’s bar but with limited internet and a male stubbornness that means I don’t ask for directions I gave in and just went to Tim Horton’s instead (the one that was 30 seconds from Gretzky’s as I’d later find out). So I had my coffee, grabbed another to go and made my way back to the Air Canada Centre to wait for game number two.

I sat on a bench waiting for the gates to open and a gentlemen who I can only describe as a USA superfan sat next to me and it was a difficult conversation.

The guy was nice enough but he just kept getting me confused, first of all I think it took about five minutes for him to realise that I am not from Toronto, nor North America. “I was wondering why you had a funny accent” he exclaimed when he finally realised.

But then he kept talking to me about things in Toronto as though I knew exactly what he was on about, and I don’t mean things I’d know like Tim Hortons, CN Tower, and other touristy stuff, I mean like local places to get hockey jerseys stitched as though I’d have any idea what he was on about.

Unless it’s located on Yonge Street, Bay Street or York Street, chances are I don’t have a clue where it is.

He complimented me on my Finland jersey from the World Cup of Hockey though so like I said, he was nice enough. Eventually he noticed the gates had opened so I hung back, for five waiting for him to be out of sight before heading in. I’m not rude, I’m anti-social, there’s a difference.

So I got up, put my coffee cup in the bin and walked through security and into the arena, took a right, up two escalators and climbed the Everest of steps to the back row, sat down and waited for warmups to start.

That’s when the upgrade came. It wasn’t Josie this time but a guy who gave me an upgraded seat to fill out the seats the camera’s would pick up, so I made my descent, stopping for oxygen (a beer while there was no queue) and went down to the lower bowl.

My first upgrade put me in row 9, second upgrade in row 7 and this one was row 5, right next to one of the walkways where the players would enter.

There was still plenty of time before the game started so I walked around the concourse of the main bowl and noticed a crowd of people outside section 110, most of them calling the name “Chris”.

Turns out it wasn’t “Chris”, it was Kris, as in Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins who was here as an ambassador of the Good Deeds cup. I think it’s a cup awarded to minor hockey or something and given to the team that has done the best good deeds in their community or something. It was literally only when I had accidentally walked right up to Kris Letang to get around the crowd that I realised, so I shook his hand and went on my way. So I met an NHLer this trip, not bad going.

Anyway, after I fangirlled in my mind for a bit I walked back over to section 119 and down to my seat.

This seat would have been better during a Canada game because they wouldn’t have put this black shield up to protect the players from objects being thrown as they entered and exited the ice, so when team USA took to the ice to take on Switzerland I couldn’t see the team enter the arena.

I did however hear a lot of “Let’s f**king go boys!” so it was like I was in the tunnel with them. During Canada games the shield isn’t raised, gives the kids (and those creepy adults like myself) the chance to get a high five as they make their way onto the ice. But Canada were over in Montreal for their game later that night and not Toronto.

This was the best game of the trip, and the last.

USA used their mix of size and speed to look dominant, counter attacking whenever possible, dancing around the Swiss defence and getting right up in the face of anybody trying to lay a hit on them.

The Swiss were the underdogs but they were a heck of a team, Jonas Siegenthaler looks like a mean defenceman that you don’t want to cross, a bit happy to cross check but a tall, imposing defenceman that lays his body on the line to stop any goals going in.

The star of the game for me though was 17-year old Halifax Mooseheads centre Nico Hischier. Coming into the tournament Hischier was probably in contention to be a top 10 pick in the upcoming NHL draft this summer, now he’s even in talks to be the first pick.

He made the Swiss team for last year’s world Juniors where he had just two points, in the game against the US he matched his point total from the previous year and ended his tournament with 7 points in five games.

The US took a 2 – 0 lead going into the second period, Jeremy Bracco was the first on the board with a powerplay strike, then captain Luke Kunin got a little lucky as his effort trickled over the line, beating Joren van Pottelberghe to double the lead.

In the second period the Swiss came alive and looked threatening the rest of the game.

Hischier cut the lead to one midway through the second period, picking up the puck at the circle, he danced around Charlie McAvoy, cutting in front of the net and beating Tyler Parsons for one of the best goals of the tournament and a goal that got the ACC on it’s feet as the crowd starting to chant “Let’s go Switzerland”.

Early in the second period the game was tied as Hischier was at it again, a mad scramble in front of the net, Hischier picked up the puck at the goalline, rounded the net and tucked the puck away to tie the game and get the crowd on their feet as the watched Hischier and his linemates celebrate like they had just won the entire tournament.

Of course the US crashed the party not long after, a shot by Charlie McAvoy early on a powerplay fell favourably to 6’5″ forward Jordan Greenway who had an easy chance to slot the puck into the net and give the US a 3 – 2 lead that stuck to the end.

This game had it all, drama, excitement, bad penalties being called, a ramped up crowd and most excitingly a hell of a close game.

It was great to watch Nico Hischier on the ice, he’s a future star in the NHL for sure and he’ll probably be at least a top 5 pick in the NHL draft this summer. He’s big for a 17-year old, he’s got the sense and the skill, the determination and the will to become a leading centreman for whatever franchise selects him in the summer and it was great to watch him be so good whilst he’s still got so far to go.

The US as well have been awesome to watch, they’ve been consistent, their lines work well together. They play bordering on arrogant but they’re getting the wins and are moving on to the final four.

So after the game I grabbed my taxi to the hotel, charged my phone and went down to the restaurant for my final steak dinner in Toronto and to watch the Canada V Czech Republic game that was taking place in Montreal, that game ended with a Canada win and a few beers in me so I went upstairs and packed the majority of my suitcase ready to check out tomorrow.

Last day in Toronto tomorrow, airport by 7pm and a flight at 10pm, back in the UK on the 4th.

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