A puck floats just wide of Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt during an IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game between Sweden and Slovakia at the Peavey Mart Centrium in Red Deer Monday. The tournament, which started on Boxing Day, was cancelled Wednesday after several positive COVID-19 tests. (File photo by Advocate staff)

A puck floats just wide of Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt during an IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game between Sweden and Slovakia at the Peavey Mart Centrium in Red Deer Monday. The tournament, which started on Boxing Day, was cancelled Wednesday after several positive COVID-19 tests. (File photo by Advocate staff)

More positive COVID-19 cases after 2022 World Juniors cancelled

Organizers defend decision to use protected environment over bubble

The International Ice Hockey Federation confirmed six new positive COVID-19 tests Thursday from the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships in Red Deer and Edmonton.

The tournament, which started on Boxing Day, was cancelled Wednesday after several positive COVID-19 tests forced the forfeiture of two games.

In a news release Thursday, the IIHF confirmed a member of Team Canada tested positive, along with one member each from Team Russia, Germany, Slovakia and Sweden as well as an on-ice game official.

“All team members and officials above will remain in a mandatory minimum ten-day quarantine before they are able to return to their home countries,” the release stated.

The Swedish Ice Hockey Federation confirmed Thursday that goalie Jesper Wallstedt was the positive case on their team. On Instagram, Wallstedt posted a message to his followers.

“Great Journey. Sad that we couldn’t continue, but is what it is,” he wrote.

Team Sweden was based in Red Deer as part of Group B at the tournament.

On Tuesday, Switzerland and USA were scheduled to play but two positive COVID-19 tests with the U.S. team caused a forfeit.

On Wednesday, a Team Russia player had a positive case, which would have necessitated a forfeit of the Russia-Slovakia game scheduled for that day. That would have been the third cancelled game due to positive cases, following Switzerland-USA and Finland-Czechia.

Players and team officials have been critical of the “protected environment” that the IIHF and the organizing committee had in place in order to run the tournament this year.

Last year, the tournament was held in a full bubble in Edmonton and went off successfully. This year, teams shared hotels with the public and were tested daily, in the wake of Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Slovakia goalie Simon Latkoczy, who played in the world juniors last year and had been stellar in two games this year, was critical of the setup this year in an Instagram post Wednesday. Slovakia was in Group B, which was hosted in Red Deer.

“It is a joke. Nothing else is true. How is this even possible? Every single player has been preparing for this tournament for days, months, even the years. This is the best part of the junior hockey… This goes on IIHF. They completely underestimated this tournament. The organization from the first day was terrible. I felt like I am participating at some basic youth hockey tournament,” he wrote.

Although Latkoczy’s Instagram account is not verified, his club team in the USHL confirmed it is his, The Canadian Press reported Thursday.

“All of us know that last year WJC took place as well in Canada. Same city same purpose, and it was to avoid of COVID… Last year we spent whole tournament in bubble just at our hotel and at the rink. It was crazy but it worked. The people who worked for us were in the bubble with us during all tournament. They did not go home at all.

“(This year) We came couple days earlier to be quarantined at our hotel rooms to make sure there is no COVID after travelling. Great, everything went great, no COVID cases after travelling…

“We all lived at the hotel where also lived normal citizens. In our hotel, was also barbershop, restaurant and boutique, where normal people were welcomed to come. That restaurant was packed every night. So we were in contact with people who were not part of the tournament all the time.

“The funniest thing ever is that there was a wedding at our hotel today. What a joke. The people who worked at the hotel or waitresses who worked for us went home every night.”

Dean McIntosh, vice-president of events and properties for Hockey Canada said Wednesday that teams were made aware of the hotel situation in Red Deer well in advance of the tournament, which included teams being housed on their own floor of the hotel.

“We worked with the hotels and both venues to ensure we had complete exclusivity on the floors we were on and we also worked with the hotel in Red Deer to move all individuals who were in the hotel out of the hotel into primary bedrooms. We did have a couple of small events that were to take place in the hotel at the far end of the conference room, that were not in direct interaction with the players. We gave the teams every indication that this was moving forward and advised the teams of opportunities they had to avoid that so they didn’t need to go to that area of the hotel,” he said.

“I certainly think we lived up to our expectations of teams early on to provide a non-exclusive environment that we made even more protective over the time they were here.

“I think in working with the teams and trying to make that situation the best we could, over the last 14 days – certainly not the same environment as we had last year, but we’re pleased with the protective environment we had and how we were able to house the players and teams in a safe manner.”

When asked about the protocols at this year’s event on Wednesday, IIHF president Luc Tardif said they thought the protected environment, along with daily testing would be enough. He pointed to the rapid development of the Omicron and its impact on leagues and competitions around the world as the main reason for preventing the tournament from going ahead.

“Before that, the protected environment was enough. Omicron changed things. You see all around, we are not the only competition touched by the virus,” said Tardif.

“At the beginning the protocol that we discussed with the medical staff and community, that was enough. Omicron changed our point of view but it was a little bit late.”

The IIHF has indicated that the tournament could potentially be replayed in the summer.