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Thursday FTB: World Juniors cancelled, NHL games returning

Hockey in North America is having a tough time these days.

Chicago Blackhawks v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Hockey in North America has been having a tough time of late. Games in every league in Canada and America have been postponed as virtually every team had to put at least a few players and staff onto COVID protocol due to a rise in positive tests.

While the NHL had an early “postponement” of all games around the Christmas holidays, the World Junior Championship soldiered on... albeit with some difficulty. They cut their exhibition warm up games to one because one player tested positive, and then they got through day three of the official round robin games before Team USA had to forfeit a match.

The next day, which was yesterday, saw more positive cases and two more games that were announced as forfeits. Mark Masters of TSN also tested positive among the media. As a result, the IIHF met with Hockey Canada and health officials for Alberta and Canada and decided to cancel the rest of the tournament.

There have already been a few articles going into the details about why it all happened. The protocols that were in place were drawn up before Omicron was a thing, and even as the organizers tried to update everything to deal with the new reality they simply couldn’t prevent the inevitable. The hotels where the players were staying were not segregated from the public, and there were reports (like this from Chris Peters at Daily Faceoff) that the Red Deer hotel had a wedding reception making it impossible for players and team staff to avoid interacting with other people. Some on Twitter that claim to be at the hotel told stories of stubborn guests refusing to wear masks.

It was basically doomed to failure without the time to arrange for anything to properly account for Omicron. There have been a lot of reports and quotes coming out from various teams that they are extremely disappointed and unhappy with how everything was handled.

For what it’s worth, the IIHF has made vague promises that they will continue the tournament at a later date — potentially within a month. Many reporters are saying they’ll aim for a summer re-launch of the World Juniors, likely hoping that Omicron will have fallen off thanks to more widespread boosters among the general population.

I am sad but not at all surprised that it was cancelled. I was hoping it would go off without a hitch, so we could all see top Leafs’ prospects Topi Niemelä, Roni Hirvonen, and especially Matthew Knies excel on a big stage.

So now we wait for the Leafs to have their games return. They are having more players come off of the COVID protocol after finishing their isolation period and testing negative. Though they also had to put Timothy Liljegren on protocol today. As of yesterday, the Leafs still had 8 players on COVID protocol, so while they’re not missing as much of their roster as before they’re still missing a big chunk.

There was actually a full slate of games last night, though word is that Canadian teams will have more difficulty. On Wednesday, the NHL already cancelled more games that had Canadian vs American teams. Now the NHL is in talks to change their COVID protocol to be modeled more after what the NFL and NBA have been doing, in part because of updated guidelines by the CDC.

Of course, the CDC’s guidelines do not necessarily match what the provinces and federal governments have here in Canada. So... that’ll be fun to figure out. As of now, the next game on the Leafs’ schedule that has not been postponed is January 1st against the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa only has one player on protocol, so unless that changes or the Leafs have more players enter protocol between then and now, we can expect hockey to return in Toronto in the new year.

LEAFS LINKS

Taxi Squad 2.0: understanding the second iteration of this Covid-era tool | by Katya

News from the Rink: Maple Leafs make some taxi squad changes and the World Juniors are cancelled | by Jon Steitzer at TLN

With so many players in COVID-19 protocol, what now for the Maple Leafs? | by The Athletic

Some news and clarification concerning Leafs’ prospect Topi Niemelä’s contractual status in Finland.

MISCELLANEOUS LINKS AND NEWS

Scary thread from Christina Marleau about her and Patrick Marleau’s son.

We have an updated rumour for who the Montreal Canadiens are looking at for their GM position.

Speaking of Montreal, their controversial first round draft pick, Logan Mailloux, will be reinstated to play in the OHL for the London Knights on January 1st, following his indefinite suspension. Guess they thought yesterday’s World Juniors news made it a good time to try and slip that in so people wouldn’t notice...

NHL players vent frustration over being barred from Olympics | by TSN

A handful of NHL players are voicing their frustration over the league’s decision barring them from participating in the Beijing Olympics. Even though the agreement between the league and NHL Players’ Association was contingent on pandemic conditions not worsening and disrupting the season, many say they are upset they were never given the choice to go.

Have a great Thursday everyone, and stay safe!