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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
It’ll be back-to-back bubble hockey happenings, a twin spin of no-fans-in-the-stands Hub City celebrations for the City of Champions & Championships.
When the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs conclude, there will be an interlude. And then there will be more behind-closed-door drama in Edmonton.
The 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation world juniors, it was made official Thursday, will be held in Edmonton during the coming holiday season in the same bubble environment the NHL players have experienced here.
One year later, the event will then return for an already-sold-out Edmonton-Red Deer world junior combination that was originally planned for this holiday season.
The exceptional experience of the so-far flawless hosting of the NHL’s return-to-play project has resulted in the unique double dip.
The combination of the job Edmonton has done and the sold-out situation of what will now become the 2022 event has resulted in two world juniors, with Sweden, the original 2022 host in Goteborg, left with little choice but to back off and allow it to happen, after a bit of a battle.
The decision was made at IIHF meetings, attended by Edmonton Oilers CEO and vice-chairman Bob Nicholson, who doubles as IIHF vice-president, in Zurich, Switzerland.
There will no longer be a Red Deer component for the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 edition of the tournament this holiday season. All 10 nations will be housed in an Edmonton bubble and all 32 games will be played at Rogers Place. That will mean four games per day in the NHL rink with all practices in the attached community arena. With junior players staying two per room and smaller groups, it’s expected all teams will be able to stay in the J.W. Marriott across the catwalk. It will be a much tighter bubble than the first few rounds of the Stanley Cup show.
The likelihood of this happening was first revealed in this column recently when Nicholson, the former head of Hockey Canada, confirmed to me he’d be heading to the meeting in Zurich with the hope of selling the IIHF on the concept of back-to-back host duties.
“Our fans deserve to see the world juniors sitting in the seats and, just as important, the players deserve to have the experience of playing in front of a building full of fans. We’d do it as an empty building, but the fans and players deserve to experience it here with full buildings the following year.”
One thing that made the 2021-empty-building/2022-full-buildings combination concept attractive is that the Edmonton organizing committee could keep the planning in place and still follow-up a year later with the signature Ice District celebrations.
Ticket buyers have from Sept 25 to Oct. 8 to seek refunds but few are expected to do so and there’s a long waiting list so that won’t be a problem.
The 2021 world juniors, a full year out, sold out all 16-games in Edmonton and all 16 games in Red Deer.
The Edmonton packages divided up games for the 18,400-seat Rogers Place. In addition to Canada, the pool includes Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany.
The Red Deer package for the 6,300 available seats included two pre-tournament games involving Canada. The intention is now to have pre-tournament games in Rogers Place prior to Christmas.
“It became obvious in monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic that the best course of action was to prepare for the 2021 world junior without fans in attendance,” said Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney. “This is an opportunity for us to give Canadians a shot in the arm,”
There were two prime motivations for Hockey Canada.
“It’ll be real important for 22 young men on Team Canada to compete in a world junior championship and not miss out on the opportunity because they graduated or aged out,” said Hockey Canada president Scott Smith.
Added Renney: “As much as it is many other things, this is a morale boost. This is an opportunity for us to put our arms around sports and to put our arms around our citizenship and recognize that we’re doing O.K. and through the tradition of the world junior championships to stay safe, healthy and comfortable and put our arms around this great event.”
It costs a fortune to conduct daily coronavirus testing and look after the sanitation protocols, but Hockey Canada has run the numbers.
“There is no question the costs are substantial,” said Smith of running an event with massive coronavirus testing, copying the NHL model as planned. “Our initial plan is to run this event and see how it nets out. We are exploring some alternate forms of revenue that might help us mitigate some of those costs. We’ve looked at this from a long-term hosting approach. After this, we were supposed to host four more events — 2024, ’26, ’28 and ’31. With the tickets sold for the now-2022 event, it gives us the sense that we can make this workout overall.”
Without a doubt, it’s another triumph for Edmonton. Neither of these events would be here without Rogers Place and the Ice District.
On Twitter: @byterryjones
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020