IIHF says it hopes to hold World Juniors later in 2022

Rogers Place arena sitting empty after the cancellation of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/CP)

IIHF president Luc Tardif didn’t rule out holding or resuming the World Junior Hockey Championship at some point in 2022, potentially in the summer, after the World Championship.

“I hope it’s not over. I don’t want to give up,” Tardif said on a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, virtually alongside other members of the organizing committee. “I think about how we can do 2022. We want to take the next month to think about it and maybe come with a good surprise.”

The event in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was cancelled Wednesday in the face of lost games due to COVID-19.

Tardif said he and the organizing committee were planning on gathering in early January to begin a feasibility study to look at holding the event later in 2022.

As with scheduling anything these days, Tardif didn’t want to commit to a particular month, but said the committee would work toward holding the tournament.

“We don’t like to quit in the middle,” he said.

Tardif, who faced a great deal of criticism for cancelling the women’s under-18 tournament just before the world juniors started, added that he and the committee would look to also reschedule the women’s tournament as well as the other five events that were cancelled along with it.

“I want to be judged at the end of the story,” he said about the under-18 women’s tournament. “We don’t like to cancel.”

Reports of the host hotel in Red Deer, Alta., also accommodating guests during the tournament was in stark contrast to last year’s tournament, which was pulled off successfully largely because the players and team personnel were contained with a protective bubble environment in Edmonton, similar to how the NHL conducted its season.

“When we started the competition, the protected environment was enough,” Tardif said, adding that “Omicron changed our point of view.”

For this year’s tournament, the players arrived Dec. 15 and were tested over the first three days. Dean McIntosh, supervisor for the event for Hockey Canada, said further protections put in place before the tournament, including ensuring exclusivity for teams on hotel floors, were satisfactory at the time.

“We were pleased with the protected environment we had,” he said.

“We’ve done the very best we can,” chief executive officer Tom Renney said. “We came up against an opponent not on the ice.”

A third game forfeited in two days 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.

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.

“Hockey Canada has 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,” Hockey Canada said in a statement attributed to both president Scott Smith and CEO Renney.

“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.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have always made the health and safety of event participants and the community at large a priority, and given the news that we have encountered positive cases within the World Juniors environment, we understand and support the decision to cancel the remainder of the event.

“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.”

–with files from The Canadian Press

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