There is no other way of putting this. The optics of the World Women’s Championship in Halifax being pulled the day before teams were due to arrive for the event were terrible. In fact, one longtime respected chronicler of women’s hockey referred to them in a Hockey Canada media conference as “crap.” And Hockey Canada president Tom Renney did not dispute that characterization.
It seems that when it comes to overcoming the global pandemic and putting on elite men’s hockey events, they somehow always seem to get pulled off. The NHL went into a bubble and successfully finished its season last summer. The World Junior Championship, in an identical bubble in the same location, were also completed. The World Under-18 Championships are set to go starting next Monday, after being moved from Michigan to Texas. And the men’s World Championship is still on the rails, scheduled for Latvia in just over a month.
But almost all the attempts for the world’s best women players to compete have been thwarted, most recently when the Nova Scotia provincial government, citing a spike in positive COVID cases, shut down the Women’s Worlds. That comes on the heels of the Under-18 Women’s Worlds, which were to take part in Sweden in early January, being scrubbed. The NWHL’s attempt to have a truncated bubble season in Lake Placid failed, only to be resurrected as a three-game championship series in Boston last month. And the April 11-12 showcase event in St. Louis for the Dream Gap Tour was also shut down because of COVID.
There is no conspiracy here. Hockey Canada desperately wanted to hold the event and was confident it could have a bubble as safe and effective as the one Edmonton had for the World Juniors. As of 5 a.m. local time, Hockey Canada officials were in communication with the government and were confident things were ready to go. But within a couple of hours everything changed and the government shut the tournament down.
“We’re up against an opponent,” Renney said, “that dictates the terms.”
Much of this also has to do with a lot of bad luck. The 2020 Women’s Worlds was wiped out because of the first wave of the pandemic and the 2021 event was put in jeopardy because of a much more serious and damaging third wave. Things had quieted down by the time the NHL was able to hold its event and the World Junior tournament was being held. If there is one thing you can say about Hockey Canada, it is that it is incredible in its attention to detail. There would not have been one safeguard available to the athletes that would not have been put in place. The reality actually is that once the players got into the bubble in Nova Scotia, there probably wouldn’t have been a safer place for them to be.
There will be those who will claim that this is a massive overreaction by a government and they might have a point. Would this government have shut down the men’s World Championship under the same circumstances? You’d hope that would be the case. But you also have to realize that the Maritime provinces have had much, much more success in slowing the spread of COVID than the other Canadian provinces and the rest of North America because they’ve been so strict in their protocols. Sometimes, and to some people, things are bigger than a hockey tournament. And if you’re going to put your event in one of those places, well, that’s one of the risks you run. For its part, Hockey Canada said it never considered moving the event because its collaboration with the provincial government had been so good and all of the signals leading up to the cancellation were positive.
“Clearly, this was a provincial decision,” said Hockey Canada’s chief operating officer Scott Smith. “I don’t say that to lay blame at the feet of the province. Although we’re very disappointed in not being able to deliver the event at this time, we have full respect for Nova Scotia Health and their decision.”
Renney said it’s still the goal of Hockey Canada to complete the event in Canada at some point in 2021, with a window of Aug. 20-30 being a possibility. But that might also conflict with countries that are centralizing their Olympic hopeful players. Hockey Canada is willing to consider any and all alternatives, including moving it to another jurisdiction. “We have every intention of making sure we follow through with a Women’s World Championship here in Canada at a point in the near future,” Renney said. “There’s only so much we can control.”