The normal storylines at the Canadian junior team hockey camp in Red Deer would have revolved around whether goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford, with a strong early showing, was destined for the No. 1 role in the crease, and how former Victoria Grizzlies captain Alex Newhook from Boston College would fit on a team dominated by major-junior players.
But nothing about the camp is normal in a decidedly abnormal year. Garand, Newhook and the rest of the players are instead holed up in their hotel, one player to a room, in a 14-day quarantine after two unnamed players tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
The two infected players are asymptomatic, Hockey Canada said during a Zoom conference call with reporters on Thursday.
The families of all the players are being kept informed daily, Hockey Canada said.
“There was obviously concern [among the families], but those concerns have been limited by communication,” said Scott Salmond, senior vice-president of national teams for Hockey Canada. “We feel our communication has been great, and [families] believe wholeheartedly in the environment we’ve created.”
Virtual poker tournaments and quiz games are just some of the ways the players are being kept connected and engaged, along with experts speaking online about different sports topics and in-room workouts. The players themselves have provided many of the suggestions.
“The solutions and ideas from the players have been overwhelming and shown creativity,” said Canadian team head coach Andre Tourigny.
“How the players have bounced back is impressive. They have shown leadership and character. There was a problem pop up and they have shown the right attitude to find solutions.”
Hockey Canada said it had a strategy in place.
“We knew we might have to pivot. We have a solid Plan B – a plan we did not want to have to use,” said Salmond.
But have to use it they must.
“The players have been incredible and have rallied around the team. These are high-performance athletes and people and are resilient,” said Salmond.
The 2021 IIHF world junior tournament is set to begin Christmas Day in a bubble in Edmonton without fans. The Hockey Canada officials were asked how confident they are the tournament can proceed safely with 10 national teams.
“Edmonton will be a more secure protective environment,” said Dean McIntosh, vice- president of events and properties for Hockey Canada.
He said all the incoming teams will be quarantined at home for seven days and tested before leaving. Each team will have its own charter flight and be quarantined for five days after arrival in Edmonton. There will only be one player to a hotel room and players will be tested for COVID-19 every day after arrival.
“We will know where everyone is in the bubble at all times,” said McIntosh.
“We feel strongly about our ability to deliver a safe event in Edmonton.”
Asked if the two-week quarantine is a setback for holder Canada’s chances of defending the title, Tourigny replied: “Never been there. Nobody before has had to stop for two weeks and restart. But players have missed entire seasons to injuries and returned and done well. We can do it.”
The 2019 world juniors were held in Victoria and Vancouver and the 2020 tournament pre-COVID in the Czech Republic. The 2022 event will return to Edmonton and Red Deer when it is projected fans will be allowed into the arenas post-COVID.