It shouldn't have ended this way.
After getting through the 2021 tournament despite early COVID-19 breakouts, there was hope the 2022 tournament could go on with little to no complications and with full fan attendance.
That was looking good until just over a week before the tournament began thanks to the rise in omicron cases in Canada. Some players were forced to miss the tournament, and the previously announced full capacity was reduced back to 50 percent.
And now, it's all over.
A total of four positive cases on the United States, Russia and Czechia forced the cancellation on just the fourth day of the tournament. Nobody wins gold. All the preparation, the dreams of so many players, done for. This isn't how it was supposed to end. But for the sake of health and safety, it's the move the IIHF elected to take.
The news comes less than a week after the IIHF cancelled all of its January events, including two U-20 men's tournaments and four U-18 women's events. For the women, it marked yet another cancellation after a rough few years for women's hockey events. It's the second such cancellation for the men's Division IIB and Division III events, which often serve as the first, or even final, opportunity for the players to represent their countries.
The decision to cancel those events while keeping the World Junior Championship intact was controversial from the get-go. Then, mix in teams in Red Deer residing in a hotel with a wedding going on and teams rooming goaltenders together and putting them in danger of not having the required two to play and you've got a flown-blown mishap on your hands.
Players and staff dream of getting to this tournament. For a good chunk of the player base, this was the last chance they had to play for their national team. It might be the biggest stage of their career. Many might not even go to pro careers, while others were using this to showcase what they can do. The 2002 age group, in particular, lost both the U-18 tournament and now this.
There's the joy of watching some of the game's best young talent battle it out to close out the holiday season. It's something that brings countries together, especially in a time where we can't be close. After two years of being forced into quarantines and lockdowns and such, watching this tournament unfold was supposed to be a positive experience -- no pun intended.
People will point blame. How do you cancel a tournament after just four confirmed positive cases? How couldn't more measures be put in place to bubble the players like last year? Why weren't players in their own hotel rooms?
The reality? It doesn't really matter. Everyone's a loser in this situation.
Cancellation of one of Hockey Canada and the IIHF's top properties doesn't come without intense decision-making. Since IIHF president Luc Tardif has taken over, he's had to deal with China's participation at the 2022 Olympics, the NHL pulling out of the games and now the cancellations of a slew of tournaments, including the top junior events on both the men's and women's side.
I wouldn't want to be the one making those decisions. Postponing the tournament was never an option. And we can only look at "what ifs" the rest of the way: what if nobody else was to test positive? Could everything gone on as planned with just the three cancellations? What if things got worse?
The decision to cancel an event of this magnitude, especially after 2021 still managed to happen, stings. Edmonton, in particular, has proven it can make a bubble system work after successfully pulling it off for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs and, later, the 2021 World Junior Championship. How the organizers couldn't make this work, forcing cancellation after just three days, will bring up continuous, and warranted, questions for weeks to come.
This sucks. All of it.