The yearly winter tradition of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Hockey Championship will officially go on this December/January amid the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. On Thursday, the IIHF announced the plans for the 2021 World Juniors, which were originally to be held in the two Alberta cities of Edmonton and Red Deer.
That plan will be bumped back a year, with the coming 2020-21 World Junior Hockey Championship being held in the same Edmonton hub city ‘bubble’ to which the NHL’s Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final are being played this postseason. Selected players from each country will report to Alberta, where they will spend the duration of the tournament inside the ‘bubble’. Living out of the nearby hotels while playing out of Rogers Place in front of no fans will make for an interesting atmosphere – much like this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In bumping the already sold out Edmonton/Red Deer World Juniors back to the 2021-22 season, the schedule will be shifted back approximately 365 days to accommodate the already pre-selected host locations of Gothenburg, Sweden (2022) and Novosibirsk, Russia (2023). Sweden and Canada will swap hosting duties, with Sweden now hosting the 2024 instalment, while Canada will host 2022 in Edmonton/Red Deer. This coming event is expected to be held with fans in attendance, while there will be no relegation for 2022, and no relegation round in 2021.
“This is a tough decision to have to take, but ultimately we did not have a choice,” IIHF President René Fasel said in a press release. “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 health regulations and travel restrictions of each participating country served as primary factors in this decision. Players will arrive from various European countries in Edmonton via three air charters after strict COVID-19 screening and testing. Players will then be tested daily within the bubble. Since arriving in the Edmonton/Toronto hub cities on July 24, NHL players have completed daily testing for over eight weeks. There has yet to be a single positive case in the 30,000+ tests administered over the past eight weeks.
“With the exception of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, all lower-division tournaments in the men’s U-20 category will be cancelled,” read a statement from an IIHF release Thursday morning. “The 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U-18 Women’s World Championship will also be cancelled together with all other tournaments in the women’s U-18 category.”
In reading between the lines, this essentially means that each tournament without a major television deal will not be played. The IIHF’s COVID-19 Expert Group has selected the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship to still be played, alongside the World Juniors. Included in the other cancellations are the women’s Olympic qualifiers.
“Requiring each tournament hosts to operate a competition “bubble” is not a practical request for our lower-division tournament organizers, many of whom are already stretched financially from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fasel added. “The IIHF does not have the resources necessary to properly supervise the safe operation of these tournaments, so that the minimum requirements for COVID-19 health and safety can be met.”
Following the IIHF Council decision, the following tournaments will be cancelled: