Defencemen Carson Lambos and Maximilian Streule were still trying to wrap their heads around not playing for their respective countries at Alberta’s world junior men’s hockey championship Monday.
Canada’s Lambos and Switzerland’s Streule were instead back in Manitoba awaiting the resumption of the Winnipeg Ice’s Western Hockey League schedule.
The men’s under-20 championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was abruptly called off on its fourth day Dec. 29 in the face of players testing positive for COVID-19 and the forfeiture of games derailing the competitive integrity of the event.
Lambos was settling in for a pre-game nap before Canada’s game against Germany in Edmonton when he was summoned to an emergency team meeting and informed there would be no more games.
“I’ve been pretty sad about the whole thing and definitely upset and still getting over it,” Lambos said.
“A lot of work and a lot of effort kind of goes into getting there and being a part of that team. So in shock a little bit and very disappointed.”
The reaction among his Canadian teammates was “some tears and mostly silence,” Lambos recalled.
The semifinals would have been Tuesday followed by Wednesday’s medal games at Edmonton’s Rogers Place.
Facing the forfeiture of a third game in two days, the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada called a termination to the tournament after nine of 31 games had been played.
Two Russians, two Americans, two Swedes, a Canadian, a Czech, a Slovak, a German and an on-ice official had caught the virus by Dec. 30. They’re currently in mandatory 10-day quarantines in their respective cities.
The 2022 tournament operated under a “protective environment” as opposed to the “bubble” that helped get the 2021 tournament in Edmonton across the finish line without spectators in the arenas.
Teams were confined to their hotel, arenas and ground transportation and all tournament personnel were tested daily. Some teams shared hotels with the public, however.
Fans were allowed into both arenas to a maximum of half-capacity this year.
“To get the fans in was a great thing,” Streule said. “We just wanted fans back in and get the feeling going to enjoy the whole tournament with the whole world and not only the players playing there.”
Slovakia’s goaltender Simon Latkoczy was critical of how the tournament operated calling it “a joke” and stating “the organization from the first day was terrible” in a social-media post.
“He has his opinion, he’s a goalie and very outspoken by the sounds of (it). I saw what he said,” Lambos said.
“Different people have different opinions and I’m going to just kind of move on with my life and not focus on ripping something apart or tearing something down.”
Said Streule: “I’m not trying to pick sides here. At the end, it wasn’t wasn’t possible to play the tournament how it was supposed to be played, so I think it was a good health decision to make.”
The IIHF and Hockey Canada left the door open for the men’s under-20 tournament to be completed in 2022 in spring or early summer.
“I honestly hope that it’s going to work out because everyone wants a chance again to show himself for a draft or whatever is coming in his career,” Streule said.
Both Ice defenceman are 18 and thus age eligible to play for their countries in the 2023 world junior championship scheduled to start in December in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia.
“It’s very disappointing to see a lot of those guys that are a year older than I am and they won’t have the chance to be on the team next year,” Lambos said. “Hopefully they can work something out for the summer, but it’s pretty devastating.
“Even for myself, to have the opportunity to possibly play in the tournament twice and have one taken away is pretty, pretty disappointing.”
The Ice (27-5-2) boast the best record in the WHL, but the team was in a holding pattern Monday.
With two Ice games postponed — Monday’s versus Moose Jaw and Saturday’s against Calgary — Winnipeg’s next scheduled game is Jan. 15 against the Regina Pats.
The WHL postponed two Winnipeg and two Brandon Wheat Kings games “due to capacity restrictions in place in the province of Manitoba.”