MALMÖ – There are two faces to the World Junior Championship. One side is for the fans who turn on the television and enjoy the games in comfort.
The other is the small contingent of dedicated personnel who sacrifice family time at Christmas and New Year’s to work the event.
For the IIHF, the longest-serving and most dedicated member of the event is Hannes Ederer. His formal title during the year is Deputy General Secretary and Event Director, but at the U20 his job is simple – he does everything.
“This tournament has it all,” he explained from his office behind the scenes, which has been his natural habitat since 1998. “It goes by so quickly, and that is where the pressure comes from. You never know what’s going to happen when you get out of bed.”
Indeed, every situation every day that needs addressing comes by Ederer’s desk at some point. That is part of the pleasure and the joy of being in charge.
“The group is small at U20, which is what I like,” he continued. “At the men’s World Championships, the group is so big. We have 20 people or more, and everyone has a small area of responsibility. Here, if someone doesn’t get the right accreditation, they come to me. If they don’t like the dressing rooms, or hotel meals, or referees, anything else, they come to me. That’s probably what has kept me doing this for so long. It’s hands-on experience. And year after year, I find new situations to improve our regulations. But the pressure is also tough.”
Although he works in hockey, Ederer’s own “career” was short and a long time ago. “I grew up in a small village called Regenstauf,” he explained. “There was a frozen river, and we always played ice hockey. One day, I went to my parents and told them I wanted to join the local club. They said no, for logistical reasons. That was the beginning and end of my ice hockey career.”
It was by no means the end of his connection to the game, though. “When I went to university, I studied sports management at Bayreuth. My first job was at the 1993 IIHF World Championship in Munich. I was with the organizing committee, so I had to deal with all the marketing contracts, implement them, make sure everybody got what they paid for. Then I worked for a small sports marketing agency for three years.”
Ederer joined the IIHF in October 1997 as marketing assistant to Kimmo Leinonen. He was hired principally as an events manager, but he also worked on implementing the Nike deal for jerseys which has been an enormous part of the IIHF’s commercial success over the last 15 years.
What does an events manager do? Quite simply, he makes sure events go off as problem-free as possible and is on site to deal with problems as they occur. It also means making several site visits in advance of tournaments to deal with potential difficulties before they arise.
“We have to make sure from the IIHF office that organizers comply with our regulations,” Ederer began. “There are always a couple of things to adjust because most arenas aren’t built to accommodate ten teams. The media areas, mixed zone, VIP and hospitality areas, offices, and the hotels. We have to be able to answer all the questions from the teams that the organizers can. There is always a person or team that feels they’re being treated unfairly, so we have to know if this is true or not. Most organizers know how to host a single game, but they have to know how to run an event where games are back to back. For instance, one problem I remember from Vancouver in 2006 was that there wasn’t enough time between games to refill the concession stands. And when we go to Canada and are in bigger venues, we have to know how they handle the crowds leaving and coming in. If the early game goes to a shootout and you have one hour to get 18,000 people out of a building, clean up, and get 18,000 new people back in, that’s a major challenge. It’s a security issue. These are thing specific to our events and one of the things I have to deal with.”
Ederer has witnessed a remarkable growth and development of the U20s during his time, and he has also been a part of that growth through his own hard work and ambition. “My first site visit was in 1997 to Helsinki,” he recalled. “On the day I left for the tournament, Kimmo told me I had to implement the commercial breaks. That was the first time we did that, with TSN. Miro [Subrt], our long-term chairman, didn’t like the idea, so there was a mini-war between Miro and TSN. That was my first challenging experience. It was also eventful because Canada brought the wrong jerseys to one game and had to wear a local Finnish team’s jerseys until their own arrived.”
“I remember that very well,” said Paul Romanuk from his home in London, England. Romanuk did the play-by-play for that game for TSN and had to adapt last minute to the new numbers. “The Russians had both sets of sweaters with them but refused to change, so someone from Hockey Canada set off from Helsinki with the correct sweaters for Canada. In the meantime, Canada had to use the sweaters of the local Finnish club that played in Hämeenlinna. They did not use the matching numbers, and I have very vivid memories of being on talkback with the producer of the show, Paul Graham, I believe, who was on the phone with someone in Hämeenlinna, and he was doing the old, "number 8 is now number 6… 17 is 31"… and so on. This was before I had my notes on a computer, so I'm making all these changes on a hard copy with a marker 10 minutes before puck drop. My lineup sheet was looking more like the sheet music for a symphony than a hockey lineup at this point. It was a mess. Anyway, I called the period, and the game, ultimately with no problem, but it was a scramble and something I still chuckle about.”
Although Ederer missed the 1999 World Juniors in Manitoba, that event was a watershed for him. He realized the impossibility of playing a large-scale event in so many venues. “I think there were eight cities that hosted at least one game, and it was difficult to get the same standards and preparation for every arena,” he noted. “That was the last time we had so many. When you have two venues, it creates a much better tournament for everyone.”
The concept of “growth” can mean many things. For television, that means the numbers on TSN have skyrocketed. It also means European networks broadcasting games where previously they ignored the event.
“Everything around the services of the championship has changed so much,” Ederer noted. “I can’t remember the mixed zone being so big in my early years. The media attendance has grown incredibly. I remember in Russia in 2001, I was the only one there from the IIHF. I attended the Directorate, then went upstairs to do the team registration. There was no internet, only a modem connection. But there was no jack in the wall to connect to the phone. The cable went right from the phone into the wall! Finally, they made a connection but I had to run down to the front desk to pay in advance with rubles. But I was only allowed to pay so much, so I’d register a team, run down and pay more money, run back up before I lost the connection again. Now, we have two results managers, an online applet, mobile phone app, the website, team photos and head shots to make available to TV and media. It’s so much more than it used to be.”
And then just when it seemed the U20 could grow no more, Hockey Canada took things to another level. First, there was a guarantee to award the U20 to Canada every three years, but even that wasn’t enough for president Bob Nicholson. When no European team applied to host 2010, Nicholson put the tournament in Saskatchewan and then arranged for Canada to host every two years. That wasn’t the full extent, as Ederer relays:
“The contract we have now with Hockey Canada changed everything. Many of the rights are now centrally marketed, and the money all teams get as a result is really amazing. It used to be organizers would be happy to break even, which they rarely did, but now everyone makes money. I think things in Europe started to change in 2007 when the U20 was in Leksand and Mora and then in Pardubice the next year. The first one broke even and the second made a bit of money for the first time. Hockey Canada hosts every other year and the rest of the years were pre-assigned, so we know now every host until 2021. For the marketing rights, we sold a good part of it to Hockey Canada, and they pay back to the teams.”
Through Nicholson, everyone wins. Canada hosts every other year; other teams reap the benefits of a mammoth rights deal; TSN broadcasts to Canada and provides feeds for Europe; interest has increased dramatically throughout the hockey world.
For Ederer, the sacrifices of all the Christmases and New Year’s Eve have been worth it, a sacrifice, to be sure, but one with benefits. “So many funny and strange things,” he reminisced. “It’s always kind of special to be away. You always feel really remote, especially on Christmas Eve, even if you’re with your group. It’s kind of tough but it’s also kind of fun. Usually we have funny experiences trying to find something to eat on Christmas Eve. We’ve landed in all sorts of places we would not normally consider for Christmas dinner.”
“For games, I remember the most the Canada-Russia game when they came back from 3-0 in Buffalo, in 2011. The supervisors came in during the third period and I asked if we had the usual Canadian final where the game is pretty much over? They said, no, the game was getting closer. So I went out and watched the Russians come back to win.”
On a more serious note, Buffalo was the first time the IIHF used a disciplinary committee of one – Dan Marouelli. Ederer explained the logic: “In the old days, the Directorate would handle disciplinary cases, but no one wanted to go against another nation, so there was no objective system to handling suspensions. Bringing in Dan, and later another member, created a lot of extra work, but it was absolutely essential.”
Ederer enjoys the extra work and all it entails, regardless the time of year and the pressure he is under to ensure everything goes off without a snag (to the outside eye).
“In my mind, I call it “my” championship,” he concludes. “I’ve been through the good and the bad. It’s close to my heart. And now I feel we have a good thing with Frank Gonzalez as tournament chairman, and now the disciplinary judges. The competition has grown and the event has become so important that the old ways aren’t good enough anymore. For me, the juniors are the best hockey. It’s exciting, and they play long stretches without a whistle. Nothing beats it.”