The Christmas Day kickoff for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship is less than two weeks away. On Saturday, managers from all 10 countries set to compete were required to lock in their final rosters. They travel into the bubble in Edmonton on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, three Philadelphia Flyers prospects are set to be donning their national team jerseys: forward Bobby Brink and defenseman Cam York for Team USA, and defender Emil Andrae for Team Sweden.
Disappointment For Foerster And Millman
Two other prospects, forward Tyson Foerster and defenseman Mason Millman, did not make Team Canada.
Millman, a fourth-round pick in 2019, was cut on Dec. 8. The news came shortly after the Canadians emerged from an unexpected two-week quarantine after two players tested positive for Covid-19 during the team’s extended selection camp in Red Deer.
Hockey Canada's Scott Salmond announces 5 players are "unfit to cont. to play based on RTP protocols." Adds it's a "health decision…not a hockey decision."
— Matthew Robertson
— Mason Millman
— Xavier Simoneau
— Daemon Hunt
— Ridly Greig
41 remain in camp.
— Jackie Spiegel (@jackiespiegel93) December 8, 2020
Foerster was cut on Thursday. He was part of the second-last group to be dismissed.
UPDATE | 7 players have been released from Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp.
Goaltenders: Brett Brochu and Tristan Lennox
Forwards: Adam Beckman, Tyson Foerster, Hendrix Lapierre, Cole Schwindt and Shane Wright
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) December 10, 2020
Foerster was Philadelphia’s first-round pick in 2020, chosen 23rd overall. He came into camp as a long shot to crack the Canadian roster. It’s incredibly deep with talent, even after the New York Rangers declined to make 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere available.
Foerster was injured at camp, in the first period of Canada’s first red-vs-white scrimmage before the group went into quarantine. He did get back into action but skated as the 13th forward in his final scrimmage on Dec. 9.
Dec. 9 | Lines for tonight's intrasquad scrimmage 🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/NOaleKumds
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) December 9, 2020
Canada’s final roster includes six returning gold medalists from the 2020 roster. Of the 22 skaters on the roster, all but two were first-round picks. The experience level is amplified further by the addition of Kirby Dach. The third-overall pick from 2019 was not available for Canada last year. He was busy in the NHL, with the Chicago Blackhawks.
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) December 12, 2020
Covid-19 Challenges Sweden And USA
Of course, the Canadians aren’t the only squad that has encountered difficulties brought on by Covid-19. Emil Andrae’s Swedish team will be travelling to Edmonton on Sunday without head coach Tomas Monten, three of his assistants, and four players including top-line center Karl Henriksson. All are unfit to play, or coach, due to positive test results.
We’ll have to wait to see where Andrae slots into the roster. National U18 Team coach Joel Ronnmark will be taking over for Monten behind the bench as the Swedes look to extend their 52-game unbeaten streak in World Juniors round-robin play. The last round-robin loss for Sweden happened back in 2006, nearly a lifetime ago for these players who were born in 2001 or later.
As for Team USA, forward Bobby Brink and defenseman Cam York are back for their second tour of duty. They’re two of eight returnees from the 2020 squad. They’ll be expected to play larger roles this year. The Americans are looking to get back into the medals after finishing sixth last year. Watch for York to quarterback the power play.
The Americans lost three players to Covid-related issues on the eve of their training camp last week. Forward John Beecher, who was set to be another returnee, was removed from the roster on Saturday after a late positive test.
Quarantine And Testing Protocols
Finland’s general manager, Kimmo Oikarinen, explained how the quarantine and testing protocols work to Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun.
“We will first have seven days of quarantine in Finland and then four more when we arrive in Edmonton,” he said. “Our players will be tested seven times during that span.”
With Week 1 complete, teams are travelling to Edmonton on Sunday. If all goes well, they’ll go through just a few more days of quarantine. But according to Rob Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun, if just one member of a travelling party tests positive, all close contacts must quarantine for 14 days.
Jones reports that multiple teams from Europe are travelling into Edmonton together: Finland, Sweden and Russia on one plane; Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic on another; Germany, Switzerland, and the IIHF brass, who are based in Zurich, on a third.
The Americans will charter in from Plymouth, Michigan. Team Canada has a 90-minute bus ride north, from Red Deer to Edmonton.
Contingencies are in place. The tournament can go ahead with as few as eight teams if any club needs to withdraw. But with exhibition games scheduled to begin on Dec. 20, it’ll be a while before anyone exhales.
“It’s difficult,” Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior vice president of national teams, told Tychkowski. “You hold your breath every day and hope not only for our sake, but others, that they can get to Edmonton on the 13th and we can have a really strong competition.
“You put everything aside at this point and just hope that everyone is going to get in safe and healthy and we can start on the 25th.”
The Flyers and their fans hope so too. With any luck, they’ll get to watch some high-level hockey and see three top prospects in action, starting Christmas Day.