World Junior Championship canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

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The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, was canceled Wednesday after four days of play due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

In the past two days, the United States, Czechia and Russia each had to forfeit a preliminary-round game after players tested positive for COVID-19.

The United States forfeited its game against Switzerland on Tuesday and entered quarantine after two players tested positive for the virus. On Wednesday, Czechia forfeited its game against Finland after one player tested positive and Russia forfeited its game against Slovakia when one player tested positive.

The decision was made during a meeting Wednesday.

“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.

“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.”

The tournament was scheduled to run through Jan. 5.

Hockey Canada president Scott Smith and CEO Tom Renney said in a statement: “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. 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.”

The 2022 tournament was held in Alberta because the 2021 event, which also had been scheduled for to be played in Edmonton and Red Deer, was played without fans in attendance and in a secure-zone “bubble” at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

The United States won the championship with a 2-0 victory against Canada in the final.

This year, the Alberta government allowed the venues, Rogers Place and WP Centrium in Red Deer, to have 50-percent capacity for spectators when the 10-team tournament began Dec. 26. Most of the pre-tournament schedule was scrapped as teams served a quarantine upon arrival in Canada, but eight of the 10 teams were able to play a game Dec. 23; a scheduled game between Czechia and Switzerland was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Our hearts go out to the players and staff of not just our country, but every nation, who have worked hard and sacrificed so much, to get to this point,” United States general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. “We’re proud of our team for doing everything that’s been asked of them, and will work to ensure their safe return home. Our thanks also to the IIHF, Hockey Canada and everyone associated with the efforts to put on the World Junior Championship in these challenging times.”

The 2023 tournament is scheduled for Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia. The 10 teams from the 2022 WJC will return, along with Belarus, which was promoted after winning the Division I Group A tournament in Denmark on Dec. 18.

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