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 affected 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 for the virus three times. And 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, even once, 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 four full days in their hotel rooms upon arrival and subject to daily testing.
On Dec. 18, as the majority of teams and players were released from quarantine to practice — but not fully inducted into the bubble just yet — the IIHF announced that two teams had positive tests: Germany and Sweden. As a result, both teams had their quarantines extended — which, for the Germans was further extended for nine players on Christmas Eve.
“The Event Medical Team and Executive Committee will ensure that the affected individuals get the care they require,” the statement from the IIHF read. “Our number one priority is the health of the individuals and to ensure that we isolate these cases to keep the entire community and event safe. … The goal of the event was to get players and staff into the bubble as early as possible in order to ensure that we could isolate any positive cases, and allow the impacted individuals to complete a mandatory quarantine period, rejoin their team and participate in the tournament.
“Our team continues to work with the Organizing Committee and all competing teams, and we will evaluate the status of all players and staff daily. Our goal remains to work through the quarantine period and establish a safe bubble for players to achieve their dream of competing in the World Juniors”
If it comes down to it, it should be noted that teams do not need to dress the maximum number of skaters and can suit up just 15 skaters and two goalies. In addition, the tournament can still go on if two of the 10 teams cannot compete. As of Dec. 18, the only teams that have not reportedly been impacted by COVID-19 are Russia, Finland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Here’s an updated look at how COVID-19 has affected the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship:
It was announced on 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-Jason 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.
Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, all staff and players tested negative before heading to Alberta but, as noted above, Germany had positive tests in Edmonton. Per the release, eight players tested positive and the team will have its quarantine extended until Dec. 24.
With the extended quarantine, Germany will be unable to compete in exhibition games with Austria (Dec. 21) and the Czech Republic (Dec. 23). The Germans are scheduled, for now, to open their 2021 bid on Dec. 25 against Finland before meeting Canada on Boxing Day.
Germany’s quarantine woes continued, it was announced on Dec. 24, as one additional player tested positive and will likely miss the entirety of the tournament; he must quarantine till Jan. 4. Ten players were released on Christmas Eve and join the six who were previously granted access to the bubble. Of the remaining eight players in quarantine, eight must remain in quarantine until Dec. 27 and will miss the team’s first two round-robin games against Finland (Dec. 25) and Canada (Dec. 26). The other five must quarantine until Dec. 29, which would leave them only one group-stage game (Dec. 30 vs. Switzerland) left on the schedule.
Based on these updates, it’ll be a depleted roster with the expectation that the Germans will only be able to ice 14 skaters (one being Tim Stuetzle) and two goalies for the first two games.
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 that 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.”
Joel Ronnmark, the only coach left on the bench, was named head coach on Dec. 11. In the past two world juniors, he served as an assistant coach. Sweden also added Anders Eriksen, coach of the U18 team, on Wednesday and announced that the Oilers’ Jason Pietrzykowski will serve as video coach.
Sweden also had positive test results in Edmonton, with two staffers testing positive. The team’s quarantine has been extended to Dec. 21; however, a few players have been released because of PCR tests showing previous infection and, therefore, likely immunity. Per Hockeysverige.se’s Uffe Bodin, those players are forwards Oscar Bjerselius (2021 draft eligible), Arvid Costmar (VAN), Emil Heineman (FLA), Zion Nybeck (CAR), Oskar Olausson (2021 draft eligible) and Theodor Niederbach (DET) and goalie Calle Clang (PIT).
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.
On Dec. 12, Team USA made its roster cuts, and in a surprising move, John Beecher and Thomas Bordeleau were released. The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter then confirmed through Beecher’s father that the Bruins prospect tested positive for COVID-19, which was later confirmed by general manager John Vanbiesbrouck. Bordeleau, who roomed with Beecher, was also sent home as he was a close contact.
One more wrinkle: It was revealed on Dec. 8 that International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel and general secretary Horst Lichtner both tested positive for COVID-19.