'This was not a COVID problem': Players, coaches blast poor planning of world juniors

Rogers Place arena sits empty after the cancellation of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton on Wednesday, December 29, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Rogers Place arena sits empty after the cancellation of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton. (CP/Jason Franson)

The 2022 world juniors were cancelled by the IIHF on Wednesday after four players tested positive for COVID-19 and three matches were forfeited.

It was not just the increased spread of the virus that caused the cancellation, but the initial logistics and lack of planning in both Red Deer and Edmonton that led to the predictable outbreak.

Unfortunately for some players, this was their last chance at getting an under-20 medal.

"I am very sad and angry about this decision. Above all, I am sad for the players and the rest of the management team. Especially for the players born in 2002, because they also missed the Under-18 World Championships earlier," said Finland coach Antti Pennanen.

"I am angry because this was not a COVID problem, but a problem of poor management. …There should have been an NHL protocol here, where only the infected are quarantined, not the whole team. That's why games had to be cancelled. It should have been handled in such a way that those who are positive are sidelined and the rest are allowed to continue playing.

"This tournament should have been organized and run properly as an event. It should have been the same as last year, when, for example, the German team had many positive tests, but still played short-handed.”

During last year’s world juniors tournament – also in Edmonton – there was a secure bubble with no public interaction. But despite the best efforts from the players and coaching staff to isolate themselves, they weren't completely cut off from the outside world, with one of the team hotels reportedly hosting a large wedding reception.

According to TSN's Gord Miller, this year's tournament is being jointly run by Hockey Canada and the Edmonton Oilers, who are responsible for the costs involved with running the event. The poor planning was the main source of frustration among some of the players.

“It could have been handled much better,” Swedish defenseman and Detroit Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson told Aftonbladet.

When asked if the planning caused some disagreements within the roster, Edvinsson said “there has been some talk” and that he and his teammates saw “people running around without masks already when we got to the hotel and thought, “what the hell is this?’”

"It is a joke,” said Slovakian goaltender Simon Latkoczy. “Nothing else is true. How is this even possible? Every single player has been preparing for this tournament for days, months, even the years.”

Latkoczy went after the IIHF and the plan that was casually put in place.

"This goes on IIHF. They completely underestimated this tournament," he continued. "The organization from the first day was terrible. I felt like I am participating at some basic youth hockey tournament.

"Last year we spent whole tournament in bubble just at our hotel and at the rink. It was crazy but it worked. The people who worked for us were in the bubble with us during all tournament. They did not go home at all. When I compare it to this year. We came couple days earlier to be quarantined at our hotel rooms to make sure there is no COVID after traveling.”

With the vaccination efforts over the past year and some periods of relative low case numbers, it is understandable why the people in charge initially thought the more relaxed restrictions could have worked. But with the Omicron variant taking hold and leading to record numbers across the country, the debacle in Red Deer and Edmonton shouldn't come as a surprise. The IIHF even cancelled all six events scheduled for January, including the women's U18 tournament, leading to confusion and frustration with the world juniors allowed to forge ahead.

TSN's Bob McKenzie speculated on Wednesday that the tournament could be rescheduled for a later date in the summer, but that those conversations have yet to begin.

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