IIHF announces 2021 world juniors will be played in Edmonton bubble

Team Canada celebrates after defeating Russia in the gold medal game at the World Junior Hockey Championships. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

After the success of the NHL’s return in Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, the International Ice Hockey Federation will be using a similar format for the upcoming under-20 World Junior Hockey Championships.

The IIHF announced Thursday that the 2021 edition of the tournament will be held in a bubble in Edmonton without fans. The tournament was originally scheduled to be co-hosted by Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., which will now happen in 2022.

As of Monday, the NHL has gone seven weeks without reporting a positive case of COVID-19 since 24 teams entered the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles on July 26 for the playoffs.

“This is a tough decision to have to take, but ultimately we did not have a choice,” said IIHF President René Fasel in a statement. “The health and safety of players, officials, and fans is our top priority. We were impressed with the presentation from the local organizing committee outlining how a potential “bubble” scenario would operate within Edmonton, and we are confident that we can follow the NHL’s great example in creating a safe environment for teams to compete.”

The IIHF says adjustments to the playing schedule will likely need to be made to accommodate the switch to one host city but more specific announcements on that front will be made at a later date. The tournament typically runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 each year and with two cities hosting round robin play before one city hosts the playoff rounds.

In a statement, Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney said the decision to hold the tournament without fans was difficult but necessary as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives around the world.

“After careful consideration and monitoring of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been determined the best course of action is to prepare to host the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton without fans in attendance,” Renney said. “A tremendous amount of work has been put into the planning of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, and we appreciate the IIHF’s consideration of our hosting proposal for the event.

“Hockey Canada believes it will be able to host a safe and successful event for all participants and the community at large this year by following strict safety protocols set forth by the appropriate health authorities.”

The 2021 edition of the tournament will feature 10 teams split into two groups of five. The first group, Pool A, will feature Canada, Finland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Germany. Pool B will include Russia, Sweden, the United States, Czech Republic and Austria. Specific details on travel and quarantine requirements for the 10 teams were not announced by the IIHF Thursday.

As a result of Edmonton and Red Deer now hosting two years in a row, Sweden, the original 2022 host-country, will now host the tournament in 2024.

“It was not a favourable position for us to be placed in as we have started preparations together with the city of Gothenburg to host next year,” said Swedish Ice Hockey Association President Anders Larsson in a statement. “But we had constructive discussions with Hockey Canada and the IIHF. We understood that this switch was necessary to preserve Canada’s capability to host the Juniors this season, especially considering all the additional investment that they must make now to ensure the tournament can be played in a safe environment. We are confident that together with the IIHF we will find a solution to cover the already-invested costs.”

From a Hockey Canada teleconference held Thursday:

• All games will be played on the primary, NHL rink inside Rogers Place, with all practices on the attached Community Arena. Organizers said on Thursday that they will not require any extra sheets of ice outside the Rogers Place bubble.

• Because they have only one game venue, the tournament may have to begin prior to its traditional Boxing Day start to get all the games in. Organizers were vague on the start date, but said they will adhere to the traditional Jan. 5 gold medal game.

• Though it is too early to pin down arrival dates and quarantine requirements for the visiting players, they could start arriving in Edmonton as early as Dec. 10 or 11, earlier than other years. Pretournament games that are usually played in smaller centres around a province will all be played at Rogers Place this December, with each club playing no more than two.

• The cost of testing players for COVID-19 will be on the organizing committee, and not borne by the IIHF.

• On refunds, ticket holders will have a window between Sept. 25 and Oct. 8 to request a refund. With a long waiting list for tickets, organizers are confident they’ll have full houses in Edmonton and Red Deer in 2022.

In a separate announcement Thursday, the IIHF cancelled all other tournaments on its schedule through to the end of January. This includes Olympic qualifying competitions, lower-division under-20 tournaments and all the women’s under-18 world championships.

Due to the cancelling of the lower-tier under-20 tournaments, the IIHF announced that there will be no relegation or promotion between divisions occurring for that age group.

The IIHF also announced Thursday that it will undergo a review of the circumstances surrounding the 2021 men’s world championships, which are currently scheduled to be hosted by Minsk, Belarus, and Riga, Latvia next summer. Due to the political unrest in Belarus, the Latvian government had previously requested Minsk be removed from co-hosting duties.

“This is the first time that a government of a host nation has indicated its unwillingness to remain a tournament co-host with another host nation due to political reasons,” Fasel said in a statement. “The IIHF is deeply concerned over the recent events unfolding in Minsk, but as a sports federation, the IIHF is not a political entity and cannot move a tournament for political reasons.

“However, the IIHF is responsible for ensuring that each tournament host can guarantee the health and safety of the players, officials, and spectators.”

The IIHF will form an “Expert Group” to review every aspect of the upcoming tournament, including from financial, medical, event, marketing, sport, legal and administrative perspectives. The findings from the investigation will be presented in November at the next IIHF Council meeting.

With files from Mark Spector

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