Hockey Canada, Oilers tackle late logistic challenges ahead of World Juniors

Canada celebrates the win over Russia at the end of IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship exhibition action. (Jason Franson/CP)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the rink,

Not a creature was eating, not a beer would they drink.

The stockings were hung, by the chimney with care,

The ultimate present — World Juniors tickets — stuffed inside there.

Children ‘cross Alberta, squealing with glee,

“Not so fast kid,” said Dad. “That refund’s for me.”

EDMONTON — At any given moment inside Rogers Place in Edmonton, there are 400 kegs of beer tapped and flowing through the miles of lines that snake their way to a few hundred draught taps in this 18,500-seat monolith.

It’s a hops highway that pours revenues into the pockets of the Oilers Entertainment Group. Literally, a revenue stream of beer.

But for this World Junior Hockey Championship, that river of $11 beers has been dammed by a provincial order to close all concessions — and cut attendance in half — setting the expiration clock ticking on all of that product.

Back in March 2020, when the pandemic struck and the Rogers Place went dark, they simply poured all that beer down the drain.

Under the stress of a suddenly-altered world juniors, complete with ticket refunds and a sudden ban on everything from pop to popcorn,

Stuart Ballantyne — President and COO of Oilers Entertainment Group — has a better idea, this time around.

“If this keeps up, I know how I’m going to get rid of it,” joked Ballantyne, who is ready to do a Homer Simpson under the taps at Moe’s Tavern.

If the dear Pat Quinn was still with us, he would describe the situation at the 2022 World Junior Championship as one that is not Hockey Canada or OEG’s fault. It is, however, their problem.

That includes fans who thought they had the perfect stocking stuffer ready to go, only to find out late in the afternoon on Dec. 23rd that all single-game tickets had been voided and they had a day to replace that gift. An email to those who held eight-game ticket packages is expected to go out on Friday morning, offering four-game packages instead.

All buyers will be offered a full refund, and as those tickets get freed up they will find their way back on Ticketmaster.

“The bulk of those should show up there on Saturday and Sunday. Fans should keep their eyes on the Ticketmaster site for tickets,” said Stew MacDonald, Chief Revenue Officer for OEG. “We hope the package holders love (their four games) and keep them. After that, you can take a refund and those games will be first come first serve as tickets are released.”

When last year’s world juniors was deemed a bubble event with no fans, ticket holders were given the choice of refunds or holding on to their tickets for this year’s event. Almost everyone chose the latter, for a WJC that would be held in the same arena, with hopes that COVID-19 would be behind us.

On Thursday, as the Omicron variant raged, the OEG could only enter damage control mode, certain to madden a large swath of customers in a situation that is not of their own doing.

MacDonald said they consulted with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets, all of whom have recently had to limit seating capacity, or eliminate food and beverage at the last minute.

The feeling is that many will simply seek refunds, including suite holders who had hoped to wine and dinner clients, people who enjoy the party aspect of the world juniors, and those who simply don’t feel right about joining a crowd in the 9,000 range during this surge in the pandemic.

“It’s still one of the greatest hockey tournaments in the world,” said Ballantyne, proud of the work his team has done. “It’s still on TV, and still happening. At the end of the day we watched a lot of great hockey last year with no one in the building. This year we’ll have people in the building, which will be really nice.”

As for all that food Ballantyne’s people stocked up on, any perishables will end up at local charities, as they did in March of 2020.

“We’re geared up and the freezers are full,” Ballantyne said. “There is perishable foods. The nice thing is we can serve food (Thursday) and we’ll still have some catering needs, feeding teams and people behind the scenes.”

As for the hockey, Canada beat Russia 6-4 in the only pre-tournament games for both teams. A crowd of less than 1,500 people dotted the cavernous arena, an inauspicious beginning to what will be another weird world juniors, thanks to everyone’s favourite pandemic.

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