IIHF Announces WJC Resumption and Sanctions Against Russia, Belarus

Some news that I never really addressed back in February involving the International Ice Hockey Federation.

First off, it was announced back on February 28 that the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, postponed back in December amid concerns about COVID-19, will resume later this summer.

NHL.com released a statement back in late February from IIHF President Luc Tardif that – a statement originally made at the closing of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing – that the 2022 WJC will resume “in the middle of August in Alberta (Canada). It will be a new competition, which means we forget the results (in December).”

The original 2022 WJC tournament, which began the day after Christmas in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, needed to be postponed after just four days of games were completed. The United States, Czechia and Russia each forfeited prelim games after outbreaks of COVID-19 in their camps.

NHL.com quoted Tardif as saying that the new tournament “could consist of the same rosters each country had in December, regardless of whether those players turn 20 before the new tournament.” The World Juniors are an under-20 tournament.

Tardif continued that, since the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup – a tournament for under-18 players – will be also scheduled for Edmonton and Red Deer in the first week of August, “We are talking with all participants and are negotiating on details. It will be after the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. It will be a hockey festival and the team are excited to do it.”

The USA was supposed to participate in Group B with Russia, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland. Group A would feature Canada, Finland, Czechia, Germany and Austria.

Belarus had been promoted to the top tournament after winning the 2022 World Junior Championship Division I, Group A tournament.

However, real world events in the weeks since have thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the rebooting of this tournament, as well as the IIHF going forward for a while.

At the same meeting held by the IIHF on February 28 that decided the rescheduling of the 2022 WJC, the IIHF Council also addressed the issue of Russian aggression towards Ukraine and subsequent military force being used against the Ukrainians.

The IIHF decided that in light of actions taken by both Russia and their ally Belarus, both Russian and Belarusian National Teams and Clubs have been suspended “from participation in every age category and in all IIHF competitions or events until further notice” according to a press release put out by the IIHF.

In addition, the IIHF has withdrawn “the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship hosting rights from Russia.”

This was done to “enable the IIHF to ensure the safety of IIHF Championships and all participating players, officials, and fans.”

Teams suspended include: Belarusian club team HK Gomel from the 2022 IIHF Continental Cup on March 4 to 6, Russian and Belarusian men’s U18 teams in the 2022 IIHF U18 World Championship (April 21-May 1), ROC and Belarus men’s national teams at the 2022 World Championship (May 13-29), the Russian U18 women’s national team at the 2022 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship (with dates TBD), the Russian men’s U20 national team at the aforementioned 2022 World Junior Championship in August and the ROC women’s national team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship (August 26-September 4).

The statement put out by the IIHF mentioned that the “IIHF Council also took into account the Russian government’s breach of the Olympic Truce, which was adopted in December 2021 as a UN resolution by United Nations General Assembly. The breach of the Olympic Truce led to a condemnation by the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board last week.”

Tardif said: “The IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine. We nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must therefore do all we can to ensure that we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF World Championship program.

“We were incredibly shocked to see the images that have come out of Ukraine. I have been in close contact with members of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine and we hope for all Ukrainians that this conflict can be resolved in a peaceful way and without the need for further violence.”

Closer to home on the same day, the National Hockey League also announced how they would be taking sanctions against Russia following the military attack on Ukraine.

According to a report by The Athletic Staff posted to The Athletic back on February 28, the NHL suspended “its relationships with ‘business partners in Russia’” effective immediately that day. It was also reported that the league paused “its ‘Russian language social and digital media sites.’”

Russia has also been taken out of consideration “as a location for any future competitions involving the NHL” as a condemnation of “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” and it “urges a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible.”

The NHL did acknowledge that Russian players are being put in a tough position and noted that they “play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL Clubs, and not on behalf of Russia.” The league said that they “understand they and their families are being placed in an extremely difficult position.”

The Athletic report noted that “Dan Milstein, an agent or some of Russia’s top NHL players, told Pierre LeBrun that teams have been providing extra security” for his clients and that “[e]veryone has been very, very supportive. My clients are extremely appreciative of the support received.”

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed that the NHL “has ‘reached out to all clubs who have Russian players to offer resources and coordinate responses as appropriate” according to The Athletic.

Some of the Russian partners affected by the sanctions include sports betting company Liga Stavok, who became the NHL’s “first league-wide exclusive Russian business partner … on a three-year deal in November” and Russian TV partner Yandex. The NHL and Yandex had just “signed a two-year contract extension in January. As part of the deal, the league launched a 24-hour NHL channel on their website.”

2022 World Juniors Canceled Mid-Tournament

According to a report by Adam Steiss on IIHF.com and the NHL Network, the 2022 World Junior Championship has been canceled midway through the preliminary round.

This comes after two more games were to be forfeited today. The Russian team had a positive case of COVID-19 which would have seen Russia forfeit their game against Slovakia. In addition, Czechia was placed in quarantine earlier today and would have forfeited their game versus Finland.

Those games join the United States forfeiting their game to Switzerland yesterday after two positive cases on the American team.

With that, Steiss wrote that the tournament’s COVID-19 Medical Group as well as the IIHF Medical Committee and the IIHF Council have all made the decision to cancel the remaining 2022 World Junior tournament “to ensure the health and safety of all participants.”

Steiss quoted IIHF President Luc Tardif as saying: “Together with the teams, we came into this event with full confidence in the COVID-19 protocols put in place by the IIHF, the LOC, Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant forced us to readjust our protocols almost immediately upon arrival to attempt to stay ahead of any potential spread. This included daily testing and the team quarantine requirement within positive cases were confirmed.

“We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work. Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”

Steiss shared a joint statement from Hockey Canada President Scott Smith and Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney: “Hockey Canada has worked tirelessly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure it would be equipped to host world-class, international events in a safe and healthy environment. Despite our best efforts, and continually adapting and strengthening protocols, we have unfortunately fallen short of our goal of completing the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship and handing out medals on Jan. 5 due to the challenges of the current COVID-19 landscape.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have always made the health and safety of event participants and the community at large a priority, and given the news that we have encountered positive cases within the World Juniors environment, we understand and support the decision to cancel the remainder of the event. Although we know this is the right decision, we sympathize with all participants who have earned the opportunity to represent their countries on the world stage and that will not be able to realize that dream in its entirety.”

And with that the 2022 World Junior Championship will come to an end. It is a disappointment for fans, of course, but in the long run, this is the best way to go about everything. We need to remember the age of the players participating and that they have long hockey careers (and lives) ahead of them. Putting them in danger now would not be in the best interests of anyone and this is the smart move ultimately.

Hopefully, once again, things will be somewhat back to normal next year as we move towards the 2023 WJC in Siberia, Russia. It is a long way away from now and a lot can happen (good or bad) but with any luck and some work, we can get things back to normal.

Again, this is disappointing for the athletes who are losing out on a chance to represent their country, but ultimately probably the best move for their future health and well-being.

We will be back here later on with coverage of the Devils game at Buffalo tonight. Puck drop is at 7 PM and the game will be shown on MSG+2.

In other Devils-related news, it was reported today by the Devils’ staff on the “Inside the Devils Blog” that, starting on January 10, 2022, all events at Prudential Center – including all Devils games – there is a new vaccine mandate in place as per the City of Newark.

The mandate says that all guests entering the Prudential Center aged five and older “will be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Additionally, the city of Newark’s previous order requiring all guests to wear masks throughout events, unless actively eating or drinking, will remain in effect.”

Between January 10 and February 9, anyone going into Prudential Center “must show proof of having received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose. Fans attending events on or after February 10 must show proof of being fully vaccinated (as outlined by the CDC, fully vaccinated is defined as having received the second dose in a two-dose series such as Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or after a single-dose vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine). Proof of vaccination can be provided via display of an actual vaccination card, a complete picture of the card or an online digital vaccination record, along with an accompanying photo identification for those age 18 and older. Exemptions will be provided to those guests who provide a certification signed by the guest and a licensed healthcare provider certifying that receiving an approved vaccine would be detrimental to the health of the guest and that the healthcare provider has medically advised the guest not to receive any vaccine.”

This is another step in trying to bring some normalcy back to life as we attempt to get the pandemic under control.