Canada’s path to the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championships was always going to be a unique one, and this week, the group faced its latest obstacle.
Just eight days into the bubbled, month-long selection camp at the Westerner Park Centrium in Red Deer, 46 players have been confined to their hotel rooms after two positive cases of COVID-19 among the athletes.
Since the players played in two intrasquad games on the weekend, the entire group, including coaches and training staff, are considered close contacts and have to isolate for 14 days, based on Alberta Health Services COVID-19 guidelines.
Canada was scheduled to have exhibition games with the Mount Royal University Cougars and the University of Alberta Golden Bears this weekend.
Those games have been cancelled, as the players and staff at camp are to remain in isolation until Dec. 7.
“We planned our camp with the idea of evaluation, selection and preparation, knowing that any one of those three things could be impacted by a positive test, and we may have to pivot.
“And certainly, that’s happened in this case and we’re fortunate we still have enough time to make that change and still prepare our team,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior vice-president of national teams.
“We’ve had different plans in place. This is a Plan B for us and one we’re able to execute quickly and efficiently. Time is on our side right now.”
Salmond said any positive test after Sunday would eliminate the player from the tournament.
He explained that even though a non-core member of the staff tested positive Saturday, the individual passed multiple COVID-19 tests beforehand.
Hockey Canada hasn’t determined how that person got it or how the players contracted the virus. Additionally, Salmond said everyone in the bubble continues to turn up asymptomatic.
Dean McIntosh, vice-president of events and properties for Hockey Canada, said that the world junior tournament, set to begin on Christmas Day in Edmonton, is still safe to go ahead.
He noted that the environment there is a more secure bubble than what the organization has run so far in Red Deer.
“If you look at what we’ve done in Red Deer… that plan was built in a protective environment. We are putting in place in Edmonton a more secure bubble environment for the event,” he said.
“For the protected environment in Red Deer, we had players travel commercially across the country to Red Deer. We put test and protocols in place …
“When you look at what we’re going to do in Edmonton, those protective measures are going to be much higher.”
McIntosh added that they’ll have a three-tiered approach in Edmonton that will include COVID testing daily, self-assessments and daily temperature checks, as well as knowing where everyone is in the bubble at all times.
They will use two hotels that are close to the area.
The Team Canada staff hasn’t determined when they will whittle down the roster, but that decision needs to be made before the move into the bubble in Edmonton.
Team Canada will only be able to take 40 people into that bubble, including staff and players.
Either way, Salmond went out of his way to praise the reaction of all the players to the latest setback.
“The players have been incredible. They’ve rallied around each other and our team,” Salmond said.
“These players are high-performance athletes and high-performance people, and it really does show the quality of people and staff we have here.”