Hockey Canada, Alberta put pandemic hockey experience to the take a look at once more in Edmonton
Alberta is about to host a third International Ice Hockey Federation pandemic tournament, leveraging the lessons learned from the first two, but the ice is still moving beneath your feet.
The 2022 Men’s U20 World Cup, which will take place on Sunday in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta. starts facing the same challenge as Edmonton a year ago: how to get hundreds of people together for a sporting event without spreading the COVID-19 virus?
Vaccines, advances in rapid testing, knowledge and data gathered at both the 2021 Edmonton U20 World Cup and the Calgary Women’s World Cup are tools Hockey Canada has now than it was a year ago.
However, the virus continues to suspend sport as the NHL takes an extended vacation hiatus due to a number of vaccinated players and team staff on the COVID protocol. The Calgary Flames, for example, had 20 players and 13 staff on their way to break.
The exhibition pre-tournament game on Thursday between the Czechs and the Swiss in Red Deer was canceled due to the COVID-19 protocol.
“We are confident of what we did to make the event happen, but we live on the edge of constantly watching the Flames, other NHL teams or professional sports in North America that have and have had to have good logs too.” Take breaks, “said Dean McIntosh, Vice President of Events, Hockey Canada.
“We don’t want that, we don’t expect that, but on the other hand we know that this is possible at any time.”
The number of active COVID cases, hospital admissions and people in intensive care in Alberta is less than a year ago at the start of the 2021 championship, which was held with no spectators at Rogers Place.
However, the Omicron variant and allowing fans in arenas for this tournament introduce new variables into the operation of the 10-country event.
Around 90 percent of tickets for the 2022 tournament were already sold when Alberta followed other provinces and limited capacity at sporting events to 50 percent.
According to statistics from the Alberta Health website, there were 8,359 active cases of COVID in the province on Saturday, 318 in the hospital and 64 in the intensive care unit, compared with 16,097 active cases, 836 in the hospital and 173 in the intensive care unit the previous year.
Those who purchased tickets will be required to provide proof of full vaccination – a negative test will not be sufficient – to enter Rogers Place and Peavey Mart Centrum.
The movement and management of players, coaches, team members and officials within the tournament will operate similarly to the 2021 edition, which in turn adopted the bubble model of the 2020 NHL playoffs in Edmonton.
You won’t mingle with the public and are limited to the hotel, ground transportation, and event levels at each venue, McIntosh said.
Regular PCR testing, supplemented by rapid tests, wearing masks, and wearable bracelet technology for contact tracing are also protocols, he added.
Two IIHF doctors are on site and each host city has a chief doctor. John Lam, an infectious disease expert from the University of Calgary, is an advisor to the tournament, McIntosh said.
Players and coaches who came to Canada as part of the federal government’s International Single Sport Exemption have been tested for three days in a row and quarantined for two days upon arrival last week.
The majority have been vaccinated, McIntosh said.
“Those who attend the event are covered by the international exemption,” he said. “We know the status of all of these people and how they test, but not all of them are fully vaccinated by Canadian standards.
“I’d tell you we’re over 90 percent fully vaccinated by Canadian standards and probably 98 or 99 percent by non-Canadian standards, but we have a few that are outside of it.”
The IIHF canceled six January tournaments, including the Women’s U18 World Cup, for the second year in a row due to COVID concerns.
Canada’s junior team opens Pool A’s round robin tournament against the Czechs at Rogers Place on Sunday. Austria, Germany and Finland round off this pool.
Defending champions USA, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland make up Pool B in Red Deer.
Canada will face Austria on December 28 with a game the following day against Germany, before crowning the preliminary round against the Finns on New Year’s Eve.
The quarter-finals on January 2nd and the semi-finals on January 4th precede the medal games on January 5th in Edmonton. Canada lost 2-0 to the Americans in the 2021 final.
The Canadian women’s ice hockey team will also compete against the US women on January 3rd in the penultimate game of the pre-Olympic Rivalry Series at Rogers Place.
The goal of the organizing committee is to do everything without major disruptions or teams being forced to play outnumbered.
The tournament got off to a bumpy start last year. Sweden traveled without its regular coaching staff and a third of the German team stayed in extended quarantine for the first three games because of positive tests for the virus.
“Confidence? I would tell you by the time we get to January 5th and the event is over and we’re giving out gold medals, my confidence is always on the edge, let’s put it that way. You worry all the time,” said McIntosh.
“We want to deliver a great event. That is our commitment to the IIHF and the Canadian fan.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 25, 2021.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press