Uncommon Junior World Championship is imminent in Edmonton
EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) – A junior ice hockey world championship like no other opens on Friday with no spectators and teams closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The U-20 tournament at Rogers Place in Edmonton is modeled after the NHL’s twin bubbles earlier this year, which allowed the league to end its season. The 12-day 10-nation tournament is shorter in duration and with fewer participants, still a major logistical undertaking for Hockey Canada and the host committee.
That it wasn’t canceled along with so many other International Ice Hockey Federation tournaments in 2020 shows the determination to host live hockey – and televise it – despite a surge in local COVID-19 cases.
Dean McIntosh, vice president of events for Hockey Canada, said the province had “been incredibly supportive”. Defending champion Canada will open the game against Germany on Saturday.
“We also have a chance to give Canadians a gift here at Christmas time,” said McIntosh. “The holiday season, the tradition of the junior world was great.”
The tournament grossed $ 22 million when it was last held in Alberta in 2012. Ticket revenue from a tournament that regularly does big business in Canada this year will be limited to buyers who do not request a refund, but their tickets for the 2022 tournament will be returned to Edmonton and Red Deer.
The teenage players must follow the same protocols that NHL players did in August and September, such as daily tests and regular temperature checks. Contact tracking beacons are embedded in your event credentials.
“We know where everyone is in the bladder at all times,” said McIntosh.
When not on the ice, the players are largely locked up on their team’s floor in one of two hotels. The arrival of winter limits the options available to hang out outside of their hotels.
There were hurdles before the tournament. Positive COVID-19 tests eliminated six of the pre-tournament games and extended quarantines for both Sweden and Germany. Sweden overtook its staff before leaving for Canada because the head coach and three assistants tested positive.
Canada’s selection camp was disrupted by a 14-day quarantine after two players tested positive.
Depending on the COVID-19 situation and the restrictions in the respective countries, the number of league games each player has varies greatly.
Russian, Finnish and Swedish players of the tournament played something that resembled a regular season in their respective leagues. Some Canadian and American players haven’t appeared in a real game in months as the major junior leagues of Western and Ontario don’t start until 2021.
“Our training was great, but nothing can replace a game,” said Canadian assistant coach Michael Dyck before the start of the preparation games. “There are situations in a game that you will only see in games and not in training.”
A handful of the 250 players are living hockey bubble lives a second time after seeing it with their respective NHL teams last summer.
Among them is 19-year-old defenseman Thomas Harley, who spent a little over eight weeks in the NHL bubble in Edmonton with the Dallas Stars en route to the Stanley Cup final, where they finished second against Tampa Bay.
“I think I like to look back on it,” Harley told the Canadian Press. “When you’re in the bubble you don’t think you’re having a lot of fun, but now that I look back on it, I realize it was a good time. It was really cool how much I learned because I was with these NHL players every day, how they prepared, how they trained, and how they carried themselves.
Harley admitted it felt like a time difference moving back to the same hotel – “my home away from home” – across from Rogers Place. This time he has a view of the street instead of the courtyard. Harley is ready to help his teammates navigate the bubble life.
“We’re here to play hockey, and as long as we do that we’re pretty happy,” he said. “When the games start, the days fly by.”
Canada is in Pool A with Finland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Germany. Russia, the United States, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Austria make up pool B. The top four teams in each group advance to the quarter-finals on January 2nd, followed by the semi-finals on January 4th and the championship game on January 5th.