Juniors Have Seniority: Ice Hockey World Junior Championships Fill In the Holidays

The preliminary round of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Junior Championships (WJC) kicked off the day after Christmas — Boxing Day in Canada — where the games have twice outscored even the Grey Cup, the CFL’s version of Super Bowl, on television. Don’t let the word “Junior” fool you — the WJC games are huge not only in Canada but also globally, with U.S., Russian, and Scandinavian teams usually entered and often taking the gold, as the U.S. did in 2010 and 2013. Eligibility is open to males under the age of 20, making the WJC the prime showcase for future NHL and other hockey league talent.

This year’s games are being played in Montreal and Toronto beginning Dec. 26, and will culminate in the Bronze and Gold Medal games at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Jan. 5. Benoit Trudeau, Technical Producer for TSN, says expect a good-sounding series. “We treat it like we do regular NHL games, but they tend to have a lot of sound anyway,” he says, noting that this year’s WJC will be the second to be broadcast in 5.1 discrete sound; the first time was the previous occasion that the games were held in Canada, in Edmonton and Calgary in 2011.

Both the Bell Centre in Montreal and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto have Holophone surround microphones installed over the ice, along with other dynamic and shotgun mics for crowd and effects sound. The audio will be mixed in the Dome Productions’ Thunder truck in Montreal and Dome’s Silver OB truck in Toronto, both of which are fitted with Calrec Alpha audio consoles with MADI and Hydra. The console in Thunder — the larger of the two trucks — has 320 channel-processing paths built in, which can be configured for up to 52 full-5.1-surround channels. Its buss structure includes 20 auxiliaries and 48 tracks. The system also provides more than 19 minutes of delay made up of 432 mono elements of up to 2.73 seconds that can be inserted in multiple places on the signal paths to compensate for synchronization problems. It will take over as the main truck once the relegation and playoff rounds begin in January. At that time, supervising A1 Patrick Castonguay will take over from A1 Steve Koubridis in Toronto.

“Having pretty much the exact same set up in each truck helps give us consistency between the two venues,” Trudeau explains. “We’re able to build both shows the same. It’s seamless sound between them.”

The installed surround microphones contribute to that, providing most of the crowd sounds that populate the rear channels of the broadcast. With microphones on the boards picking up ice and skate sounds, Trudeau says the mix is rich and full beneath the announcers, with crescendos building as the action nears a net and an explosion of sound with each goal. “We build the mix to try to really put you in the moment, in the arena,” he says.

What the broadcast won’t have, however, is player sound. “I don’t think miking up an eighteen-year-old on live television is really what you want to do,” he says, his tone centered somewhere between humor and seriousness. He adds that the number of games and the multiple locations would mean adding to staff and time to screen audio before replays or on a live time delay.

But that hasn’t stopped the growth of the Juniors; Globe and Mail writer Bruce Dowbiggin credits TSN for turning the tournament from an obscure non-event when it acquired the rights in 1991 to one of Canada’s most beloved annual sports events, and in the process inspired the NHL’s Winter Classic. It also has attracted turmoil similar to what the SEC is going through in the U.S., with class-action lawsuits against the three major junior leagues — the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. As per The New York Times, the suits charge that, by issuing stipends to players of as little as $35 a week and not providing for overtime, vacation, or holiday pay, the leagues violate minimum-wage laws in every Canadian province and the American states in which they operate.

But over the winter holiday, the focus will be on the hockey, and that’s what Trudeau says Canadians live for. This year marks TSN’s 25th anniversary broadcasting the World Juniors, and for this year’s tournament, TSN will have more than 120 production staff working in Toronto and Montreal using 20 cameras for every game featuring Team Canada, including a super slow-motion camera. “It’s a big thing,” he says.