Toronto out to prove its hockey preeminence

Toronto will get another shot to prove it’s a true hockey town when Team Canada drops by for an exhibition game against Sweden on Dec. 21 in preparation for the world junior tournament in Buffalo, N.Y.

Canada will also take on Switzerland Dec. 20 in Oshawa, and battle Finland three days later in Kitchener.

The move signifies another attempt by the city to generate interest in a market that traditionally gravitates solely to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But the Greater Toronto Area will have its chance to silence the critics as it will host numerous non-NHL events over the next year.

It was announced in May that Mississauga will host the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup, the most preeminent national junior hockey tournament in North America.

Following the announcement that Mississauga beat out smaller markets such as Barrie, Kingston and Windsor, OHL commissioner David Branch praised the decision made by the selection committee.

“The city of Mississauga and the Greater Toronto Area is such an enormous market for hockey at all levels,” Branch said. “We are confident that this event will excite fans in this area and enhance the experience for fans across the entire CHL.”

It’s hard to argue the GTA isn’t a major hockey market based on numbers alone, but when it comes to the junior level — specifically the OHL — there are plenty questions surrounding the region’s invested interest.

The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors ranked second last in average attendance last year of only 2, 248 despite playing in an arena capable of holding 5,420.

Granted, they have drawn bigger crowds this year with an average of 2,955 coming out to watch one of the best team’s in the CHL.

The spike in attendance was expected, but it will be interesting to see if it drops back down next year or if the Memorial Cup attracts new fans.

If history is any indication, the status quo will prevail.

Before the Majors called Mississauga home, they played out of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College.

Despite icing a team that made four-straight conference finals between 2000-2004, they averaged only 1,165 fans per game during that span.

Mississauga’s history isn’t any better.

After coming into the league in 1998-99, the IceDogs killed any momentum generated from the birth of a new franchise by winning a combined 26 games in their first four seasons.

While attendance was respectable at first, the novelty of junior hockey in Mississauga gradually waned and hasn’t recovered since.

On top of hosting the Memorial Cup, Toronto will get another opportunity to showcase its passionate hockey base when the CHL Top Prospects Game is played at the Air Canada Centre Jan. 19.

If the trifecta of events draws poorly, the naysayers will become louder and the centre of the hockey universe challenged once again.

But hey, at least the Leafs are winning again.