IIHF cancels remainder of 2022 world juniors due to COVID-19

EDMONTON – The world junior men’s hockey championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was cancelled Wednesday in the face of lost games due to COVID-19.

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.

Daily Faceoff’s Chris Peters was first to report the cancellation.

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.

“The ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant forced us to readjust our protocols almost immediately upon arrival to attempt to stay ahead of any potential spread,” IIHF president Luc Tardif said in a statement. “This included daily testing and the team quarantine requirement when positive cases were confirmed.

“We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work. Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”

Two Americans testing positive forced the forfeiture of Tuesday’s game to the Swiss. A Czech player and a Russian player testing positive meant the forfeiture of Wednesday’s games involving those teams.

Canada was scheduled to play its third preliminary-round game against Germany on Wednesday night.

“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 chief executive officer Tom 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.”

Protocols for the 2022 world under-20 championship were established before a surge of the Omicron variant prompted the IIHF to cancel six January tournaments, including the women’s under-18 world championship in Sweden, according to Tardif.

“To put this into context, there were eight NHL games postponed when the teams entered their arrival quarantine on the 15th. By the time we had accepted the recommendation to cancel the January events on the 23rd there were 62 total NHL games postponed. That is how quickly the situation has changed,” Tardif said in an interview posted on the IIHF website before the cancellation announcement.

The cancellation breaks a run of 44 consecutive years of the IIHF’s world-under-20 men’s championship.

“In our opinion, stopping the World Championship is a reasonable decision,” wrote Lars Weibel, the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation’s director of national teams, in a Twitter post.

“In view of the current situation, it is unfortunately no longer possible to guarantee a fair tournament at sporting level.”

The 2021 tournament in Edmonton managed to cross the finish line, with the United States beating Canada in the final game Jan. 5.

After the Czechia-Finland game was forfeited and before the tournament was cancelled, the IIHF announced that referees and linesmen would have to wear masks during games.

The cancellation comes on the heels of the IIHF’s decision late last week to cancel all events that started in January, including the women’s under-18 world championship, a decision that was heavily criticized.

The U18 championship was scheduled to take place Jan. 8-15 in Linkoping and Mjolby, Sweden. It’s the second straight year the tournament has been cancelled after the 2021 event, also scheduled for Linkoping and Mjolby, was scrapped due to the pandemic.

The IIHF said the tournaments were cancelled because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.