Victoria Royals defecemen lose out as U-17 hockey worlds latest victim of pandemic

Wherever their careers carry them, Victoria Royals prospects Jason Spizawka and Kalem Parker are unlikely to forget this pandemic summer. It took another turn with the announced cancellation of the 2020 U-17 World Hockey Challenge on Friday after both players had been being invited to the national camp.

The tournament, scheduled for Oct. 31 to Nov. 7 in Charlottetown and Summerside, P.E.I., is the latest in a long line of sporting events to fall victim to COVID-19.

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A total of 113 players have been invited to participate in the Canadian Under-17 online camp from July 19 to 25. Among the 35 Western Hockey League prospects invited are defencemen Spizawka and Parker. The virtual camp will still go ahead online, for educational purposes, but there will be no payoff at the end in terms of a world tournament. Three Canadian teams — Canada Red, Canada Black and Canada White — would have represented against the national U-17 team of the U.S. and those from several European nations.

“It’s obviously disappointing but safety comes first,” said Spizawka.

Spizawka, a hometown product of the Racquet Club, and Parker, from Clavet, Sask., represent the long-term future of the Royals’ blue line.

“As some provinces continue to move ahead with phased re-opening, Hockey Canada’s priority remains the health and safety of all participants and the general public,” Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said in a statement. “We believe the decision to cancel the 2020 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is the safest decision given the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic at a local level, as well as the international implications associated with this event.”

With the WHL’s announced 2020-21 season start date of Oct. 2 considered optimistic by many, Spizawka’s and Parker’s expected rookie seasons with the Royals remain clouded.

“You just have to focus on yourself and do your best to be prepared for when the time comes to play,” said Spizawka.

As per the training in small groups allowed by B.C.’s return-to-play guidelines, Spizawka began skating this week at Westhills Arena. It was his first time on blades in months.

“It felt good but the stick handling was a bit rusty,” he said.

Spizawka was the Royals’ first-round pick and Parker the club’s second-round selection in the 2019 WHL bantam draft.

Hockey Canada, meanwhile, said at this time the status of the 2021 world junior championship, scheduled for Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., remains unchanged. Among the invitees to this month’s online Canadian junior team training camp for the 2021 world juniors is goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford, who plays for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL.

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