With the breaking news on Wednesday afternoon that the IIHF was cancelling the men’s 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship after several forfeits due to COVID outbreaks at the Red Deer, Alberta hockey tourney site, it serves as another example of the largely silent price being paid by teenagers and young adults during this global pandemic.
There were only four positive tests at the time of the tournament’s cancellation, but it’s believed the decision was made over a number of factors, including a number of on-ice officials that had been quarantined after positive tests, an unsecured team hotel situation where a hotel wedding reception may have acted as a super spreader event and several forfeits that challenged the tournament’s competitive integrity just as it was getting started.
On top of it all, it was taking place in an Alberta province exploding with Omicron variant cases over the last few weeks.
Basically, the World Juniors didn’t attempt the kind of secured bubble situation that worked for the NHL and the whole thing quickly spiraled into an untenable situation. One would hope the Olympics organizers were paying close attention to see what could quickly downward spiral if they don’t adhere to strict, secured protocols to avoid outbreaks during the Winter Games in Beijing.
On the plus side, we did get one amazing performance from 16-year-old Connor Bedard, who matched a Wayne Gretzky record with a four-goal performance for Team Canada against kids much older than him. This electric play from Bedard has hands, skill and elite confidence written all over it from a kid that’s still two years away from NHL superstardom.
There’s also the hope the IIHF follows through on some chatter about trying to restart the World Junior tourney this summer when perhaps COVID subsides a bit as it did last summer. But it’s all talk until the wheels start turning for it.
But on the downside, the World Juniors cancellation is just another example of the kind of unfair, crippling burden the global pandemic has placed on our teenagers and young adults. Everybody is aware of the COVID death total that sadly grows by the day, and it’s obvious at this point that every citizen of the world has had their lives altered by the pandemic in some way, shape or form.
Just this week, Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand vented about the NHL’s decision to pull players out of the Winter Olympics due to COVID complications. The 33-year-old Marchand lost out on his one and only chance to skate in the Olympics for Team Canada and he was clearly pretty pissed off about it.
But there isn’t enough being said about the sheltered, muted lives that our high school and college kids are being forced to live these days while also being the group at the lowest risk health-wise from COVID.
Proms have been cancelled, high school sports seasons have been scrapped and so many important rites of passage for our maturing youngsters have been completely eliminated for an entire generation of innocent kids. There’s no telling what kind of mental and physical damage is being done to an entire wave of young people forced to sacrifice so many important things for a virus that’s never been a tangible danger to them.
CBS analyst Jan Crawford said it much better than I ever could.
It’s heartbreaking to see photos like this one of Team USA, who got to play exactly one game before popping positive tests in the preliminary rounds of the tournament. An entire year of hockey talent around the world will be robbed of the unique developmental experience that an elite international hockey tournament provides just like clubs, teams and extracurricular activities have been cancelled for high school kids from coast to coast.
There may be nobody to blame for a COVID problem becoming impossible to contain even as the vaccine has proven effective at helping avoid serious illness, hospitalization and death in the vast majority of cases. But it sure feels like the growing sense from people is that it’s time to start finding ways to live through COVID rather than cancelling everything while making our children pay a damaging price. A growing number of NHL players are beginning to sound that refrain even as the league has reduced mandatory quarantine time from 10 days to 5 days for asymptomatic players based on the CDC’s recommendation.
“Hopefully we can start moving along with COVID. I don't think we're going to move past it,” said Boston Bruins winger Taylor Hall. “We have to accept this is going to be part of our lives. Hopefully guys like me don’t have to miss 10 days of action when we don't feel any symptoms.”
While some will search for pinpoint reasons behind the World Juniors cancellation or look for somebody to blame, let’s think most about who it’s all actually hurting.
As has been the case throughout this pandemic, teenagers and young adults are bearing an extremely difficult burden that will impact them forever. I really feel for these kids and the opportunity life's circumstances has grievously taken from them. That’s a largely unspoken tragedy that needs to be factored into how we approach things like the cancellation of the World Juniors Championships while balancing the ongoing public health and safety risks of COVID-19.