Junior world organizers aren’t panicking, but questions abound amid outbreaks


EDMONTON – Bob Nicholson got out of bed, checked his cell phone, and suddenly became the central figure in this dog meme in the flaming cafe.

Its good.

On Tuesday, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation announced that head coach Tomas Montén and forward Albin Grewe had tested positive for COVID-19. Swedish players William Wallinder, Karl Henriksson and William Eklund have also tested positive in recent days, leaving all four affected players and three coaches ineligible to travel to Edmonton for the world junior tournament.

Minutes later, a statement from the German Ice Hockey Federation said two players on its preliminary roster for the tournament, Lukas Reichel and Nino Kinder, had tested positive. Then came the news that the new coronavirus had found its way into the IIHF headquarters, infecting President René Fasel and General Secretary Horst Lichtner.

Meanwhile, the United States team had previously announced roster changes forced by COVID-19 on Monday, as they prepared to arrive in Edmonton on December 13. large quarantine.

“You think every day, ‘Dude, this is gonna be tough.’ But not every situation is easy, ”said Nicholson, IIHF vice president and president of Oilers Entertainment.

“We will just have to be very strict on our protocols.”

Heading into Christmas Day, is it now fair to ask if Hockey Canada and the Oilers will be able to win the 2021 World Junior tournament?

Anyone who tests positive after November 29 – two weeks before the team arrives in Edmonton – is not eligible for the World Juniors. Player, coach, organizer – anyone.

So while most teams have seen the virus make cuts to the roster, they may not have made themselves – Canada has lost five players deemed medically ineligible to play – at this point all 10 teams have enough players to make an entry.

So Tuesday’s news didn’t panic Nicholson?

“Not now, but I hope it doesn’t continue,” he said.

Now that we’ve passed November 29, it’s up to the teams to protect themselves so that they can get to Edmonton in full. It was reported that the Swedes, for example, met in Stockholm and all hopped on a bus for the long drive to training camp, the hockey version of a super spreader.

Another mistake like this could cost a nation its place here in Edmonton.

There are backup plans if a team has a late breakout and can’t ice the 17 or 18-player minimum for a tournament team, said Scott Salmond, senior vice-president of national teams for Hockey Canada. “It could be eight teams against 10, if there were a few teams that couldn’t participate.”

“I know once they got to Edmonton we really managed to pull ourselves together,” said Nicholson, referring to the success of the NHL playoff bubble in Edmonton. “Bring them here and we’ll make them as safe as possible, start this tournament.” ”

So why is it so important to “start this tournament?” Important enough that the Oilers and Hockey Canada announced that they will be hosting the fan-free tournament in Edmonton this year, as long as Edmonton and Red Deer can share the 2022 tournament as they were supposed to do this Christmas?

Money, of course.

Hockey Canada receives a multi-million dollar check from the broadcast rights holder, and there are international television deals that are also feeding the pockets of various federations.

In addition, Hockey Canada’s major sponsors – multinationals like Tim Hortons, Telus, Nike, Esso – pay huge sums that go into hockey at all levels, but depend on the kind of visibility the world juniors give them at the internationally and across the country.

So they’ll be moving forward with the 2021 tournament, with Team Canada coming out of quarantine in Red Deer to host intra-team games on Wednesday and Thursday, before cutting back and making the 150-kilometer trip to Edmonton on Sunday. There, all teams will have another five-day quarantine before practice begins on December 18 and pre-tournament matches on December 20.

Meanwhile, Edmonton, once considered one of Canada’s safest centers to host the NHL playoffs, has become a COVID hotspot.

“It raises everyone’s level of concern,” said Salmond, “but the fact that we are operating in a bubble… people have gone out of their way to make sure we have a safe bubble. We are convinced that… we are isolated. We live in our own bubble and we are excluded. Interaction with the audience is not there.

“Our team, international teams and Albertans are immune to any exposure.”


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