Director of IIHF World Junior Championship hails from Comox

Riley Wiwchar has been roaming around the country the past 11 years, organizing major events for Hockey Canada. His latest job is director of the 2019 IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Junior Championship, which starts Dec. 26 in Vancouver and Victoria.

“It’s been a fun job,” said Wiwchar, 33, who hails from the Comox Valley. “I run this tournament, and I do the women’s worlds as well, so I kind of move across the country. Basically every year, year-and-a-half, I move to a new city and run an event, and then go on to the next one.”

For the time being, he’s going back and forth between Vancouver and Victoria, which will co-host group stage games in the buildup to the gold medal game Jan. 5 in Vancouver.

Wiwchar was always involved in sports while growing up in Comox. After high school, he enrolled in recreation management/community development at the University of Manitoba, where he says he caught a break during an internship.

“Went to the Canada Games, moved on with the Commonwealth Games in the Caribbean. Just got lucky. I applied for a job with Hockey Canada in Calgary, got the job and then moved my way up.”

His job is all-encompassing. Ticket sales, marketing, sponsorship, operations and logistics are some of the details that fall under his umbrella.

Four international teams will be staying on Vancouver Island before the tournament begins, including the Swiss, who will be based out of the Comox Valley Sports Centre from Dec. 12-22.

“They’re really excited to be there,” Wiwchar said. “It’s cool for the people in the Valley to be able to witness it, because it’s a pretty good level of hockey.”

Some of the juniors, like Swedish forward Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks, already play in the National Hockey League.

“There’s probably a dozen players this year that may not leave the NHL that could be playing in this tournament.”

On Dec. 19, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Jr. A team host the juniors from Kazakhstan, Slovakia takes on the Czech Republic in Nanaimo, and the Swiss play defending tournament champion Canada in Victoria. There will be other pre-tourney games in Kelowna, Kamloops, Langley, Chilliwack and Burnaby.

“The tournament’s in Vancouver and Victoria, but we wanted to make sure that the rest of B.C. got to experience it,” Wiwchar said. “Every team has a legitimate chance of winning. One bounce here, there can mean the difference between first and eighth place.”

Tim Hunter, a former NHL enforcer who won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames, is head coach of Canada.

“He’s come full circle,” Wiwchar said. “He’s a really good coach. He’s got those guys focused…He’s a tough guy, he’s got that reputation, but he’s really good for the kids, too. I think they respect him. He’s got a lighter side to him as well.”

Last year’s tournament in Buffalo had some trouble filling seats, but Wiwchar said ticket sales this year have been “fantastic.” Tickets are sold out in Victoria, while Vancouver is beyond 87 per cent capacity for every game, on average.

“We never really had that worry here. It hasn’t been back (to B.C.) in 13 years, so people have been waiting for it.”

While he has fond memories of each event, the one that stands out for Wiwchar is the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Kamloops — even if Canada lost to the U.S. in the gold medal game.

“It was such a good event. The whole community got involved. The atmosphere we created in the rinks for the teams was next level. That one definitely stands out.”

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