The IIHF announced on Wednesday that it has canceled the remainder of its 2022 World Junior Championship because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases among players.
IIHF officials met Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to keep the tournament going despite COVID issues, but those present decided cancellation was the best path.
The news comes on the heels of three tournament games being forfeited in the past 24 hours after positive tests started popping up. On Tuesday, the USA forfeited its game to Switzerland after two players contracted the virus, and on Wednesday positive cases forced the Czech Republic to forfeit against Finland and Russia to forfeit against Slovakia.
"We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work," IIHF president Luc Tardif said. "Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely."
Tardif added that the tournament could resume this summer.
For the second straight year the tournament was in Alberta, but unlike the 2021 event in Edmonton, players and staff were not in a bubble environment that would provide extra protection against the virus. Teams stayed in hotels open to the public, and with the highly contagious omicron variant, even the most vigilant adherence to protocols couldn't totally prevent illnesses.
Several teams expressed frustration to tournament organizers about the bubble environment not being as secure as advertised. Teams in Red Deer shared the hotel with the general public, including a large wedding party.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have always made the health and safety of event participants and the community at large a priority, and given the news that we have encountered positive cases within the World Juniors environment, we understand and support the decision to cancel the remainder of the event," Hockey Canada president Scott Smith and CEO Tom Renney said in a joint statement. "Although we know this is the right decision, we sympathize with all participants who have earned the opportunity to represent their countries on the world stage and that will not be able to realize that dream in its entirety."