Team Canada returned to the ice after what must have seemed like an eternity.
The 41 players at Canada’s 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship selection camp were back at the Westerner Park Centrium Tuesday, 14-days after two players tested positive for COVID-19. Players were confined to their hotel rooms over the past two weeks before getting back to practice.
“I can’t say enough about the incredible resiliency and commitment from our players, staff and everyone around our group, getting through what has been a difficult 14 days,” said Scott Salmond senior vice-president of national teams with Hockey Canada in a Zoom media conference.
“Certainly worth it when you see the excitement (Tuesday) when the players got on the bus and then being on the ice. Now our biggest challenge is remaining healthy.”
Canada opened camp on Nov. 17 but had to shut down for 14 days after two players tested positive on Nov. 24. Canada also had a staff member test positive on Nov. 21.
Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Dylan Cozens, who is expected to be a leader for Canada at the 2021 world junior tournament said it was a relief to get back on the ice with his teammates.
“We were definitely really excited to get back on the ice. It’s been a long time. We got back out there, we were a little rusty, lungs were a little tired. it’s going to come back pretty quick,” he said.
Salmond explained that as a result of the positive tests, in order to receive another exemption for Alberta Health Services, they moved from a “protected environment” to a “secured bubble.”
That means only eight players on each bus to the rink, seven players to a dressing room and meals only in the hotel room delivered by staff – among other stringent protocols.
Salmond also delivered the bad news to five players, Matthew Robertson, Mason Millman, Daemon Hunt, Ridly Greig and Xavier Simoneau, all of whom were deemed unfit to play.
No details were provided about which players tested positive or why exactly the list of players were sent home from camp. He did say that any player or staff that tested positive for COVID-19 after Nov. 29 is ineligible to enter the bubble in Edmonton.
Selection camp will continue without those players, with intrasquad games Wednesday and Thursday, followed by cutting the roster down to 25 players.
Team Canada will enter the bubble in Edmonton on Sunday. Salmond said they had an opportunity to pick the team and move forward before Tuesday, but decided to give those players one last opportunity coming out of quarantine.
“At the end of the day, we wanted to make sure we gave as many players another opportunity to make this team… I think everyone is grateful for the opportunity and grateful for the fresh air and grateful to be back on the ice,” he said.
“It’s a unique year, regardless of the 25 players that are going to move on this is a very unique year and I feel like we’ve all been through so much together, everyone is going to be part of our team success.”
The world junior tournament will start on Christmas Day in Edmonton. Tuesday, both the Swedish and German hockey federations announced that players on their teams tested positive for COVID-19.
“It’s difficult, you hold your breath every day. Not only for our sake but others, that they can get to Edmonton on the 13th and be healthy and we can have a real strong competition,” Salmond said.
“You put everything aside at this point and hope that everyone is going to get in safe and healthy and we’ll be able to start on the 25th.”