After members of both the Czech National U-20 and U-17 Team tested positive for COVID-19 following exhibition tournaments, the Czech Ice Hockey Association today announced all August tournaments and practices have been cancelled, including the postponed Carlson Hockey Games, set to complete the 2019-20 Euro Hockey Tour.
The National Junior (U-20) team saw three cases of infection following an exhibition series against Slovakia in Brno, which was set to host the Carlson Games, while five members of the U-17 team tested positive following an exhibition series in Zuchwil, Switzerland, which saw the team train in Plzeň prior. Furthering the complications is the fact that a number of U-17 players also played with the U-20 team, meaning the chances for cross-contamination for future testing is high. The Slovak U-20 team has already confirmed one positive test on their squad, while there is no word yet from the Swiss U-17 team.
Due to the rapid spikes, and in particular with a number of Czech club teams beginning their training camps this week, the CSLH today confirmed that all men’s and women’s national events, including training camps, practices and tournaments (also including the U-20 Four Nations Cup), are cancelled for the month of August. The Carlson Games, which were already rescheduled from April due to COVID-19, were set to be played in Brno from 27-30 August as the final leg of the 2019-20 Euro Hockey Tour, which as of February’s Beijer Hockey Games in Sweden saw Czechia and Sweden tied at 16 points each, with the Czechs in first only by virtue of a higher goal differential.
Even if the Czechs were to continue, the Carlson Hockey Games were still up in the air to begin on 27 August anyways, as current international travel restrictions would have meant that the Russian and Finnish squads would have been unable to travel to Czechia, a contingency the CSLH was hoping would be lifted by the time August rolled around when the tournament was first postponed in March. But with a resurgence of the virus impacting Western and Central Europe throughout the summer, the CSLH was forced to cancel.
What this means for the final Euro Hockey Tour standings, or if the tournament will be made up at some point in the 2020-21 season, remains to be seen; as of now, Czechia tops the EHT standings for 2019-20, tied with Sweden with 16 points each after nine games, but ahead by virtue of goal differential (+6 vs. +3). If they were to be awarded the Tour championship, it would be just their third time in history topping the table, following wins in 1998 and 2012. Sweden would finish second, with Finland (14 points) in third and Russia (8 points) in fourth.
In terms of international hockey, and the IHLC, for the future, this means that the next major international men’s senior tournament would be November’s Karjala Tournament in Finland, which would mark the beginning of the 2020-21 Euro Hockey Tour. The Czechs will hang on to the IHLC until then, when hopefully Europe, and the world, are in a better place with containing or eliminating the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that international hockey can resume again.