The world junior men’s hockey championship in Red Deer and Edmonton has been cancelled because of COVID-19.
It is a crushing blow for Red Deer, as the tournament was initially supposed to be held in the city and Edmonton last year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was played solely in Edmonton where tournament organizers created a bubble.
This time around, a third game forfeited in two days, which left the International Ice Hockey Federation, Hockey Canada and organizing committee with few options to continue a tournament with competitive integrity, and they opted to call off the 11-day, 10-country tournament.
“Following a recommendation by the tournament COVID-19 Medical Group and the IIHF Medical Committee, the IIHF Council has decided that, due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship will be cancelled to ensure the health and safety of all participants,” the IIHF announced on its website around 2 p.m. Wednesday.
A player on the Russian national team tested positive, meaning it would have to forfeit its Wednesday game against Slovakia.
The game is the third to be cancelled due to positive cases, following Switzerland-USA and Finland-Czechia.
“In addition to ensuring the health and safety of participants, the council has determined that with another forfeiture – the third forfeited game in two days – the sportive integrity of the event has been compromised, and the event must be cancelled.”
IIHF president Luc Tardif’s statement said: “Together with the teams, we came into this event with full confidence in the COVID-19 protocols put in place by the IIHF, the LOC, Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“The ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant forced us to readjust our protocols almost immediately upon arrival to attempt to stay ahead of any potential spread. This included daily testing and the team quarantine requirement when positive cases were confirmed.
“We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work,” said Tardif. “Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”
The tournament opened Sunday, but players testing positive for COVID-19 had put defending champion United States, Russia and Czechia into mandatory quarantines by Wednesday.
Teams arrived in Alberta on Dec. 15, quarantined for two days and were tested before they were allowed to skate.
Three players and two officials tested positive for the virus before the tournament started. The pre-tournament schedule was reduced to one game per team, with the Czechs and Swiss unable to play any warmup games.
Two Americans testing positive forced the forfeiture of Tuesday’s game against the Swiss, which was to have taken place at the Peavey Mart Centrium. A Czech player and a Russian player testing positive meant the forfeiture of Wednesday’s games involving those teams.
The Americans were to have faced off against the Swedish team at the Centrium on Wednesday evening.
In a statement Hockey Canada President Scott Smith and CEO Tom Renney said the organization had “worked tirelessly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure it would be equipped to host world-class, international events in a safe and healthy environment.
“Despite our best efforts, and continually adapting and strengthening protocols, we have unfortunately fallen short of our goal of completing the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship and handing out medals on Jan. 5 due to the challenges of the current COVID-19 landscape.
“Although we know this is the right decision, we sympathize with all participants who have earned the opportunity to represent their countries on the world stage and that will not be able to realize that dream in its entirety.”
Hockey watchers and fans were quick to tweet their unhappiness with the IIHF’s handling of the tournament in the midst of a pandemic and soaring number of cases of the COVID Omicron variant.
Many questioned why players were not better isolated from the public in their hotels and other places. Some said tournament organizers should have opted for a bubble, similar to what was used in last year’s tournament and in the NHL playoffs this year.
— With files from The Canadian Press