After taking the IIHF to task yesterday over their management of World Junior Championship, the fallout from the positive tests in the Sweden and Germany selection camps continues to be felt through those teams with more announcements of people and players that will be excluded from the tournament. With Sweden missing seven people from their selection camp and Germany missing two, there are still enough bodies to make a team, but the depth of those teams will be tested against the rest of the world’s best when the tournament kicks off on December 25. And it doesn’t look good for an increasing number of countries.
It was announced today that a fourth coach from Sweden will no longer be permitted to travel to Canada after goaltending coach Nizze Landén tested positive on December 8 following negative tests on December 6. He joins assistant coach Anders Lundberg, head coach Tomas Montén, and video coach Adam Almqvist who all tested positive on December 6 which virtually removes all of the U20 coaches that were scheduled to travel to Canada. In total, that’s four players and four coaches from Sweden who won’t be coming to Canada.
While that’s not good news for Sweden as Joel Rönnmark is the only coach remaining from the original crew who were supposed to coach the team, and it’s reported that Sweden U18 team coach Anders Eriksén has joined the team to help Rönnmark. Eriksén should be able to help Rönnmark evaluate the younger Swedish players in camp thanks to his involvement with the younger national teams, so this could work in Sweden’s favour in that they may bring over a young team this year, but have experienced players in future years. We saw Finland do this, and worked extremely well for that country’s success at the World Junior Championship in past years.
Germany, as reported above, was already down two players, and a third joined them after Elias Lindner showed negative results on the December 6 testing, but returned positive results yesterday. The left winger plays for the junior Red Bull team in Germany, so he’ll return home thanks to this positive test result rather than playing in Edmonton. The 19 year-old had one goal and nine assists in 17 games for Red Bull this season, but his age and experience put him in good odds to make the team.
Adding to Germany’s headache was a fourth player to test positive as returning netminder and likely starter Tobias Ancicka also tested positive for COVID-19. The 19 year-old netminder was scheduled to possibly suit up with the DEL’s Eisbären Berlin this season after returning from Edmonton, but that trip to Canada also won’t be happening, weakening an already-hurting German squad as top players continue to either sit out or be sent home.
Switzerland took a hit in their selection camp when three positive tests were returned over the last three days for Yves Stoffel, Jannik Canova, and Kevin Lindemann. Canova played a couple of games with HC Davos this season as he appears ready to take another step in his development. Stoffel was most recently with EV Zug, and Lindemann played with Leksands in Sweden. All three were expected to challenge for roster spots on the Swiss team for this tournament, but all three will be forced to watch from home.
The US made adjustments to their roster before setting up their selection camp as Red Wings prospect Robert Mastrosimone, Blackhawks prosepect and defenseman Alex Vlasic, and Blackhawks prospect and goaltender Drew Commesso were all told they could not attend the US selection camp after a positive test was returned on December 3 for the NCAA’s Boston University Terriers men’s hockey team where these three attend and play hockey. The Terriers shut down all team activities that day, and the US World Junior squad made the decision to swap these three players for other potential team members.
Austria lost one of its two high-profile stars from the World Junior Championship when Ducks prospect and defenseman Thimo Nickl tested positive for COVID-19. Nickl looked like a lock for this team after an outstanding campaign with the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs last season where he scored 10 goals and added 29 helpers in 58 games. Losing a player of Nickl’s ability just made avoiding relegation that much harder for Austria.
Canada, for what its worth, has made cuts in its selection camp, but one of those cuts was previously-positive Ridly Greig who was deemed “unfit to play based on return-to-play protocols.” Greig admitted that he was “still physically recovering from COVID-19” even though he was negative in his tests. Clearly, this virus does a number on everyone including well-conditioned athletes like Greig, so seeing him released from the camp shouldn’t come as a surprise despite me pulling for the Brandon Wheat King’s inclusion.
As it stands, only four teams – Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia – haven’t reported a COVID-related roster change since preparations began across the planet for the 2021 World Junior Championship. While it’s not easy to read all these names of players whose dreams of playing in this tournament were dashed, the reality is that their health is more important than some tournament we’ll all forget about by February. My sincere hope is that they all get well quickly so they can resume somewhat-normal lives and that none of them are afflicted by this virus for a prolonged period of time.
As teams prepare to charter into Edmonton for December 13, let’s hope there aren’t any other players who are sent home prior to the tournament starting. This tournament is already hurting from a lack of stars who could have been playing, so let’s hope these isolations and removals from camps start dwindling in numbers.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!