The IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship is now officially over. A fast-paced tournament featuring some of the best hockey of the year, the World Juniors have often flown by in the blink of an eye. This year, however, the tournament lasted just three-and-a-half days.
The Omicron variant has forced the IIHF’s governing body to declare the 2022 running of the annual tournament over, or cancelled.
With three games having already been scratched off the ledger due to four positive COVID-19 tests within three different teams, the decision was made to scrap the tournament, with emphasis on a safe return to international competition for 2023.
Two players on USA have tested positive for COVID, while one Russian player and one player from Czechia are also COVID-positive. Despite a low number of cases, the cancellation of games was the leading factor in pulling the plug on the tournament. On top of the three teams mentioned, Switzerland, Finland and Austria had already had players test positive for COVID prior to the tournament’s beginning.
“Together with the teams, we came into this event with full confidence in the COVID-19 protocols put in place by the IIHF, the LOC, Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and the Public Health Agency of Canada,” IIHF President Luc Tardif said. “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. This included daily testing and the team quarantine requirement when positive cases were confirmed.”
USA forfeited Tuesday’s game against Switzerland, before Czechia forfeited to Finland on Wednesday morning. The second forfeit of the day came to the Russians, who handed Slovakia a 1-0 victory. That game seemingly was the final straw, as the announcement came shortly thereafter.
“We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work,” Tardif added. “Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”
Having already made an amendment to the rules, which saw on-ice officials being required to wear masks during game play, the changes were not enough. Not operating ‘bubble style’ like the 2021 World Juniors, this year’s event saw teams congregating in three total hotels, to which were not cordoned off from the public. Staying in one of the hotels was a large wedding party, to which many maskless photo ops occurred as players and team members sauntered past.
Winnipeg Jets star prospect Cole Perfetti finished the tournament with one goal and six points – good for first place overall, while 16-year-old teammate Connor Bedard led all players with four goals, which he just so happened to score in the same game.
“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,” said Hockey Canada president Scott Smith. “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.”