Slovakian standout Juraj Slafkovsky just misses on a backhand breakaway attempt on Team Germany goalie Florian Bugl in first period pre-tournament action of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships at the Centrium on Thursday. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Slovakian standout Juraj Slafkovsky just misses on a backhand breakaway attempt on Team Germany goalie Florian Bugl in first period pre-tournament action of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships at the Centrium on Thursday. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Red Deer hit hard by World Junior tournament cancellation

Rebels owner and Westerner Park CEO express disappointment tournament cut short

Like millions of other hockey fans, Red Deer Rebels owner Brent Sutter is deeply disappointed that the men’s junior hockey showcase event was called off Wednesday.

“The whole thing is very disappointing obviously,” said Sutter, who is also the club’s president and general manager. “I just feel so bad for all the people who worked so hard to have this in place.

“And I feel bad for the players and all of the staff,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

For all those involved in Red Deer, it has been doubling disappointing. Last year, Red Deer was supposed to co-host along with Edmonton. But the ongoing pandemic convinced organizers to host all of the games in a bubble in Edmonton.

This year, it finally looked like Red Deer would get a chance to host — for the first time since 1995 — the world’s best junior hockey players along with Edmonton.

“To have it all go sideways, has certainly been really disappointing and frustrating,” said Sutter.

“It’s an awful thing for everybody. I don’t think a lot of people understand how much work goes into hosting an event like this.”

Huge amount of work was done by the Red Deer Rebels, Westerner Park, Hockey Canada and many others to get ready in Red Deer.

Even getting this far into the tournament, meant changing plans overnight. Before the tournament even began, three players and two officials tested positive for the virus. The pre-tournament schedule was cut back to one game per team, with the Czechs and Swiss unable to play any warmup games.

On Dec. 21, the province introduced new health restrictions. Convention centres and arenas were prohibited from selling food and beverages to patrons, in order to reduce the spread of the more transmissible Omicron variant.

The province also ordered that seating capacity be cut in half, reducing Peavey Mart Centrium to 3,500 seats.

“That was a huge twist. Now, all of a sudden there was a whole different animal you’re dealing with,” said Sutter.

“With the whole thing, it’s just almost surreal to see how this has all happened. I just feel terrible for the so many people involved who put so much work into this.”

All those who rose to the earlier challenges now face the job of packing everything up.

“All I know is right now we just have to try to regroup here. There’s a lot of work still to be done here. We have to dismantle everything and take things down and there is a lot of work from an organizational standpoint that our whole staff participated in.

Whether the International Ice Hockey Federation would consider giving Red Deer a third opportunity to host sometime in the relatively future is impossible to say. Russia has already been chosen as the 2023 venue.

“I have no idea what will happen moving forward. I wouldn’t want to even speculate.”

Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen also voiced his sympathy for all those involved, starting with the players but for all of the others — numbering in the thousands — who made the tournament happen.

Organizers and the International Ice Hockey Federation did what they could but as the number of positive tests and game forfeits started rising, Olesen feared the worst.

“Everyone was doing what they could, but it’s something out of our control obviously. It’s certainly very disappointing and difficult to swallow but unfortunately I’m not surprised, considering what’s happening.”

For Westerner Park, the lost revenue will have to be dealt with. They managed to minimize the impact of the government’s ban on food and beverage sales by controlling inventory and working with suppliers to reduce wastage.

“But on the revenue side, it’s a seven-figure event so there’s quite a bit that won’t be realized as a result.”



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