The pressure is always high for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
But this year’s team faces a whole host of unusual circumstances.
Not only will the team play summer hockey on home soil as they begin their tournament game against Latvia in Edmonton on Wednesday, they will also do so under close scrutiny.
Hockey Canada has been heavily criticized in recent months for handling sexual assault allegations against members of former world junior teams.
The allegations led to parliamentary inquiries and the federal government has frozen its funding of the organization.
Big-name sponsors – including Telus and Canadian Tire – followed suit, leaving the ice at Rogers Place clear of advertising and the surrounding boards without the usual logos when Tuesday’s game begins when Slovakia take on the Czech Republic. Later in the day, Finland take on Latvia and Germany take on the reigning American champions.
The buzz and excitement that surrounded the inaugural 2022 tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., is largely absent.
This re-run of the tournament was abandoned after just four days on December 29 as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be lost.
The World Juniors are a showcase of the best U20 players around the world, but the International Ice Hockey Federation has allowed athletes born in 2002 who are already 20 years old to compete in this summer’s championship.
Despite the eligibility change, several big Canadian talents are missing from the tournament, including former captain Kaiden Guhle (a potential Montreal Canadiens candidate) and defenseman Owen Power, who was selected overall by the Buffalo Sabers in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Forward Shane Wright, who was drafted fourth overall by the Seattle Kraken in last month’s 2022 draft, is also absent.
Team Canada is led by Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard, along with Mason McTavish and Kent Johnson, who were part of the men’s Olympic team that finished sixth at the Beijing games.
The postponed 2022 tournament also lacks a major competitive threat, with the International Ice Hockey Federation banning Russia from the 10-team competition over the country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Unlike previous iterations of the tournament, World Juniors 2022 tickets are still available through Ticketmaster, including around 1,300 for Wednesday’s tilt between Canada and Latvia. More than 1,500 seats for the final game of the 11-day tournament are also still up for grabs.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 9, 2022.