The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship is scheduled to begin with a tripleheader on Christmas Day and run through Jan. 5, but before the puck has even dropped in Edmonton, Alta., the tournament has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before traveling by private charter to Edmonton and entering the world junior bubble on Dec. 13, teams had to enter a bubble in their home country by Dec. 6 and test negative three times. Per Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior vice president of national teams, anyone traveling to Edmonton is required to test negative for COVID-19 from Nov. 29 on. If they test positive after that date, they — coach, staff or player — are deemed “ineligible to participate in any manner at the world junior championship.”
Once everyone is in Edmonton, the bubble is expected to be similar to the one NHL teams experienced over the summer. Keeping it secure is critical. Teams will be quarantined for five days in their hotel rooms upon arrival and subject to daily testing.
Of course, there is the added pressure of whether the tournament will happen as cases skyrocket in Alberta. But for now, everything is full steam ahead.
A number of teams have been impacted by COVID-19 before going wheels up for Alberta. (As of Dec. 10, only four teams — Finland, Russia, Czech Republic and Slovakia — have not reported any changes to their teams.)
Here’s an updated look at how COVID-19 has impacted the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship:
It was announced Dec. 8 that defenseman Thimo Nickl (Ducks, 2020) returned a positive COVID-19 test and would be unable to participate. Nickl was one of just two players (the other being Wild prospect Marco Rossi) selected for the camp who were drafted by an NHL team.
Drummondville’s Thimo Nickl, who hadn’t made it over to North America yet this year, out of the WJC after a positive Covid-19 test. https://t.co/IxSbVQVfAr
— Patrick McNeil (@cbepbp) December 8, 2020
The host team was the first one hit by COVID-19 as it began its selection camp earlier than the other countries. Players met in Red Deer, Alta., on Nov. 16.
Five players did not play in the team’s first intrasquad game on Nov. 21: goaltender Devon Levi and forwards Ridly Greig, Dylan Holloway, Alex Newhook and Xavier Simoneau. Levi, Holloway and Newhook all play college hockey in the United States and are subject to Canada’s 14-day quarantine requirement. Per Greig’s agent Kevin Epp, the forward had tested positive for COVID-19 but was asymptomatic. He did attend camp by the first weekend and was skating with the other quarantined players.
WORLD JUNIORS 2021: Roster, dates, format for Hockey Canada’s selection camp
Before the first week was over, on Nov. 21, Hockey Canada announced that a non-core staff member tested positive. The staff member and their close contacts, including assistant coaches Jason LaBarbera and Michael Dyck, were placed in self-isolation. Labarbera and Dyck continued coaching via video with Tyler Dietrich temporarily taking over Dyck’s power-play duties.
Four days later, on the morning after an intrasquad game was postponed, the camp was shut down after two unidentified players tested positive. The team was quarantined — no one was allowed to leave their hotel room — for 14 days.
Before Canada returned to the ice on Dec. 8, five players were released. Per Salmond, the decisions were based strictly on health and not hockey as the players were “unfit to continue to play based on return-to-play protocols.”
The five players were defensemen Matthew Robertson (Rangers, 2019), Mason Millman (Flyers, 2019) and Daemon Hunt (Wild, 2020) and forwards Simoneau (2021 draft prospect) and Greig (Senators, 2020).
The Germans lost four players for the tournament: goaltender Tobias Ancicka and forwards Lukas Reichel (Blackhawks, 2020), Nino Kinder and Elias Linder. Losing Ancicka, Reichel and Kinder, who played in last year’s tournament, is a big blow to the lineup. Reichel combined with John Peterka and Tim Stutzle for 16 points at the 2020 championship and the trio was expected to be reunited as the team’s top line. Ancicka was looking like the nation’s top netminder. Linder did not play in the 2020 WJC.
The Swedes may have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Even before getting to camp on Dec. 6, video coach Adam Almqvist and forwards Karl Henriksson (Rangers, 2019) and William Eklund (2021 draft) tested positive and were ineligible to join the team.
Two days later, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation announced head coach Tomas Monten, assistant coach Anders Lundberg, forward Albin Grewe (Red Wings, 2019) and defenseman William Wallinder (Red Wings, 2020) had tested positive for the virus. The next day, goalie coach Nizze Landen was removed from eligibility.
“This is obviously worrying and a difficult situation where our ultimate responsibility is the safety of players and leaders,” Swedish federation secretary-general Johan Stark said in a statement on the organization’s website.
“This is a serious situation from a safety perspective and we must follow this hour by hour. We also have a close dialogue with the International Ice Hockey Federation to describe our situation and review our alternatives.”
Who the Swedes will tap as bench boss has yet to be revealed — they only had Joel Ronnmark left on the coaching staff — but they did add Anders Eriksen, coach of the U18 team, on Wednesday. The loss of two top forwards and a defenseman doesn’t help.
The Swiss are the latest team to have players removed because of COVID-19 in forwards Yves Stoffel, Jannik Canova and Kevin Lindemann. Stoffel tested positive in the team’s second round of testing and Canova was a close contact. Lindemann tested positive in the first round of testing.
Before the U.S. headed to its short camp in Plymouth, Mich., three players were substituted on the roster: forward Robert Mastrosimone (Red Wings, 2019), defenseman Alex Vlasic (Blackhawks, 2019) and goaltender Drew Commesso (Blackhawks, 2020). The three attend Boston University and the program suspended all team activities following a positive test on Dec. 3.
USA Hockey added defensemen Tyler Kleven (Senators, 2020) and Hunter Skinner (Rangers, 2019) and goaltender Logan Stein to the camp roster.
One more wrinkle: It was revealed Dec. 8 that International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel and general secretary Horst Lichtner both tested positive for COVID-19.