One of the reasons we decided to spend our year abroad in Madrid was the weather. We were looking for an escape from the cold, harsh, seemingly-never-ending Ottawa winters, and Madrid offered that.
So how did we end up in Helsinki in December?
Hockey. Hockey is to blame.
Before we even set foot on the continent, we threw around the idea of attending the World Junior Hockey Championships.
An annual event that brings out the best and brightest young guns in hockey, the World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC or World Juniors as it’s known colloquially) rotate between hosting the event in Europe and North America each year over Christmas and New Years. Whenever it’s held in Toronto or anywhere near where we live, it’s downright unaffordable, so we thought that maybe this could be our year.
And then we saw that it was in Helsinki—this would completely ruin our plans for a warm, sunny, parka-free Christmas, so we threw the plan away.
One day, in early-November we were again talking about the World Juniors and out of the blue, I decided to look at ticket prices. They were outrageous; not only were they significantly cheaper than anything we would ever find in Canada, but they were premium seats. For a mere €136 combined (!!) we could see not one, but FOUR games each while sitting just four rows from the ice.
We looked at each other in disbelief. After confirming this wasn’t a mistake, we looked at flight prices and started planning our hockey-inspired trip to Helsinki. In just a few hours we’d thrown our plan for a snow-free December away, and for hockey.
Here are my top 3 highlights (and an honourable mention) from the World Junior Hockey Championships in Helsinki:
Canada vs. Sweden
While I’ve attended many hockey games in the past (I’m Canadian, it’s in my blood… or so I’ve been told by numerous marketing campaigns), but this was the first time I was witnessing Canada play in an international men’s match outside of the comfort of my living room or the local pub. And it was awesome. Some 5,000 Canadians had travelled to Helsinki for the tournament and I’m pretty sure the vast majority of them were at that game. It wasn’t quite a sea of red, but it wasn’t far off.
Canadian fans are passionate about hockey and this was evident throughout every moment of the match. From screams and cheers to frustration and jeers, the Canadians let it all out. Sometimes we wished they wouldn’t, but hey, it’s hockey.
Our favourite moment of the game came mid-way through the third period. Canada was trailing and someone decided it was time to pump up the boys by chanting “Maple Syrup”. I’m not going to lie, it was weird but also pretty catchy and hilarious. It’s hard not to smile when you’re surrounded by 3,000 people at a hockey game, chanting “Maple Syrup”; does it get much more Canadian than that?! I think not.
Although Canada lost, it was really nice to root for the home team, even when home was so far away.
The Swedish Fans
The Swedish fans were not only the highlight of the Canada-Sweden game, but maybe of the tournament. Painted blue and gold, wearing Viking caps with blonde pigtails, and wearing somewhat obscure player jerseys from the 90s, the Swedish fans went all out. Including one group of men who actually showed up in formal wear (seemingly because they were going out for NYE after the game).
Not only were they dressed to the nines but also their chant game was on fleek. While most fans stuck to the classics, the Swedish fans had elaborate chants, call-and-responses, and songs that were so catchy I am still singing them, and it’s nearly two weeks later.
For me, part of the enjoyment of hockey (and sports) is being part of the crowd, and I have to say Sweden’s fans made it a game to remember.
Honourable Mention to the Czech Republic fans
My family is Czech so I was just a little bit excited when I found out we’d be watching the Czech Republic play the USA in the quarterfinals. I assumed that the stands would be packed with American fans for that game and for the most part I was right. Although only 1/3 full, most of the fans in the arena were cheering for the States, except for one small corner. Draped in Czech flags about 12 fans sat, sang and cheered louder than anyone else in the arena. And they didn’t stop. Even when the score was 5-0 USA they kept right on going, chanting with the same gusto as if it was 0-0.
Watching the New Talent
Every year, the World Juniors showcase the unbelievable talent of a new, up-and-coming crop of hockey players. For many of them this is their chance to impress scouts in advance of the NHL Draft. They play their heart out not only for their country but also for their future, and this year was no different.
During our four games we were able to see some of the most talked about rookies, including Auston Matthews (USA), Alexander Nylander (SWE), Dylan Strome (CAN), and so many more. It’s crazy to think how good they all are and they’re all just getting started.
While our trip to Helsinki took us back to the land of ice and snow (more on that to come next week), we had an unbelievable time watching the incredible talent that was showcased during the World Juniors and cheering on Canada some 6,000km away from home.
Next year, the World Juniors are back in Canada, split between Toronto and Montreal. Who knows, maybe we’ll have to make another trip out of it.
Please Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All thoughts, feelings and opinions shared on this blog and in this post are my own.