While there was initial hope following the widespread cancellation of all senior men’s and women’s IIHF events this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the resurgence of the virus in many parts of the world has prompted the IIHF to cancel a number of new tournaments for this winter, including all lower-tier men’s under-20 World Junior tournaments.
Officially, the IIHF has cancelled all women’s under-18 tournaments (including their Top Division tournament in Sweden this coming January), along with all men’s U20 tournaments except the Top Division, currently set to begin 26 December in Alberta, Canada. This includes Division I tournaments in Denmark and Estonia, Division II tournaments in Romania and Serbia, and Division III, which was set to take place in Mexico City with just four teams, after four national squads (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Israel) already confirmed their withdrawals due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Additionally, the IIHF confirmed that the women’s 2022 Olympic Qualification tournaments, set to begin in December in Iceland, would be postponed indefinitely, with new dates to be announced at a later time. The first round was set to begin 17 December with four teams, while the second round would commence across three countries (Korea, Italy and Poland) in February, with the final Qualification round set to begin in August in Czechia, Germany and Sweden.
How these cancellations will impact the World Junior Top Division remains to be seen, with considerations to be given about how promotion and relegation will work for both this tournament as well as the 2022 World Juniors, set to begin in Gothenburg, Sweden next December. Austria, which was promoted to this year’s World Juniors, may have the opportunity to stay in the Top Division another season if one of Belarus, Denmark, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia or Norway are unable to play for promotion in 2022.
However, the bigger question now is whether the Top Division will face cancellation for the first time in its 45-year history; the Alberta government, which is already doing a successful job at hosting the NHL postseason in a bubble format in Edmonton, the main host for the World Juniors, has been lobbying to continue a similar format for the tournament in both Edmonton and Red Deer. But with both the NHL tentatively set to resume play in December (which would likely include Edmonton), and travel restrictions to Canada being quite strict, whether an international bubble of teams from nine countries can be set up safely remains to be seen.