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Minnesota’s Commitment to Growth Helped Land World Juniors

By Jessi Pierce, 01/30/24, 10:00AM CST


Brock Faber recalls nearly every second of the U.S. gold medal-winning game at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta.

The smell of the ice. The rivalry refueled between USA and Canada in the championship showdown. The anthem.

And, of course, the win.

“It was incredible,” said Faber, who had five assists in seven games for Team USA in 2021. “It’s a moment that any kid putting on the USA jersey dreams of. You not only want to be a part of winning gold against the best players at that age level, but you also want to be a part of that tournament.

“There’s nothing like it.”

The current Minnesota Wild defenseman was one of thousands across the State of Hockey who rejoiced at the Jan. 5 announcement that the World Junior Championship will be hosted by Minnesota in 2026, beating out proposed locations in Seattle and Las Vegas.

“It’s going to be so freaking cool,” Faber said with a big grin plastered across his face. “Just wow. Awesome.”

The primary venue will be Faber’s NHL home at Xcel Energy Center. His former home at the University of Minnesota, 3M Arena at Mariucci, will serve as a secondary host site.

It seems like destiny that Minnesota would be awarded not only a World Junior Championship but to also host during the coveted international tournament’s 50th anniversary. Minneapolis and St. Paul co-hosted the 1982 World Junior Championship, the first ever WJC to be held in the United States and only the sixth year since the tournament became an IIHF-sponsored event.

The United States has hosted the World Junior Championship five times, with each of the last two held in Buffalo, New York. Grand Forks, North Dakota and Thief River Falls hosted in 2005, and Boston hosted in 1996.

Wendy Williams Blackshaw, president and CEO of Minnesota Sports and Events, was a part of the Twin Cities’ delegation. She said it wasn’t just that Minnesota is such a hockey hotbed — the Number 1 producer of youth, college and pro players — but it’s a state that continues to focus on growth and development.

“USA Hockey wanted to be in a market where there was opportunity to grow the sport,” said Blackshaw, who has been a part of bringing the Super Bowl, Frozen Fours, Final Fours and much more to Minnesota. “In Minnesota increasing player numbers,  building rinks, upgrading rinks and more. There is so much room to expand this sport it’s unbelievable.

“And that’s one of the things that we want to focus on over the next couple of years. How do we get even more kids playing hockey? How do we get more kids on skates? So that community initiative is one of the things we are going to do alongside bringing this event to Minnesota.

“Hockey is still a very growing sport in the state. The development of youth hockey programs is one of the top priorities.”

Naturally, revenue is also a factor. But Blackshaw and her group are looking beyond just ticket sales worldwide. They are also considering the best ways to make an economic impact across the state, focusing on pre-exhibition games to raise excitement before the big tournament in the metro.

“It’s one of the reasons we were so interested in this because we want it to be a statewide initiative,” said Blackshaw. “We want it to be something that impacts not just the metro area but the entire state. And we want people to come from all over the state of Minnesota to see these games because, again, the opportunity to see this level of hockey doesn’t come along very often.

“We really believe that we can sell a ton of tickets, get people into the seats and stands and see what really is the best hockey in the world.”

If his NHL schedule allows, you can bet Faber will be in attendance every step of the way.

“How can you not have it in a hockey-crazed state like Minnesota? It just makes sense,” said the Maple Grove native. “We have the best hockey fans in the world, and I think we’re really going to be able to show that in two years with an international tournament like the World Juniors.”

Blackshaw couldn’t agree more.

“In the end, they just believed that this was really the best place,” she said. “What better place to have the 50th anniversary than in the State of Hockey. I almost feel like you have to have it here. And we’re so thrilled we get to.”