Awkward gaps in the stands catch the headlines at Hockey World Championships
Organisers obliged to back down on ticket prices; Finnish Lions unbeaten but unconvincing
Oh dear. It wasn't supposed to go like this, not at all.
The 2012 IIHF World Championships, hosted jointly by 2011 World Champions Finland and runners-up Sweden, got under way on Friday, but the organisers had somewhat furrowed brows, owing to a distinct absence of bottoms on seats in the two arenas - the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki and Stockholm's Globen.
There had been much debate in advance over the rather exorbitant prices asked for tickets, and also over the need for such tournaments to be played on a yearly basis, and whilst the main host organisers at the Finnish Ice Hockey Association had given assurances that tickets had sold well, the numbers said otherwise.
In Sweden in particular, Friday was an attendance disaster, with just 2,600 spectators turning up for the two early matches between Germany and Italy and the Czech Republic and Denmark, and Globen was only half-full even when Sweden faced Norway in the evening.
Things were somewhat better in Helsinki, but the Hartwall Arena was less than half-full for the appearance of Canada and Slovakia, and just over 8,400 turned up to see Team USA beat France.
Even Finland's opening match against Belarus failed to sell out.
The Swedes immediately went into crisis mode and decided to drop the prices for Sweden's own Preliminary Group matches dramatically (from around EUR 145 to EUR 45), but in Helsinki the FIHA answered that this was not on the agenda.
The resolve of the Finnish hosts only lasted until Sunday, when there were protest banners in evidence in the Hartwall Arena, with the sharp end of the criticism being directed towards the Association's President Kalervo Kummola, and it was then decided that a "four-for-the-price-of-one" arrangement would be put into effect for the Finland matches against France and Kazakhstan.
The discount sale may nevertheless have come too late to redeem the public relations defeat suffered by the Ice Hockey Association, for the IIHF bosses were not amused by the sight of swathes of empty seats in TV coverage of the early games.
On the ice, Finland remain unbeaten and have yet to concede a goal, but whilst this speaks of a solid defensive line, the 1-0 victories eked out against Belarus on Friday and Slovakia on Sunday have raised some questions about goalscoring ability, particularly since the Lions were given a hatful of opportunities to add to their score on the powerplays and signally failed to do so.
The home fans, particularly those who have paid full price for their participation in the spectacle, will be hoping that the ketchup bottle starts to deliver quickly against Switzerland (also unbeaten after two games and certainly no pushover) and France, before the daunting prospect of Canada looms up on Friday.
The Canadians will certainly be up for Friday's encounter, as they are smarting from a 5-4 overtime defeat to Team USA on Saturday - a match that once again drew a surprisingly small number of spectators; 6,842 in a hall that can hold more than 13,000.
Latvia produced the first real upset of the tournament by beating Germany 3-2 in Stockholm on Sunday, but otherwise things have gone more or less according to expectations in the lengthy Preliminary Round, which is divided into two leagues with eight teams in each.
The top four teams from each group will progress to the quarter-finals.
Previously in HS International Edition:
IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: The puck drops here! (4.5.2012)
2012 IIHF World Championships (Wikipedia)
IIHF Official site