The first IIHF “bubble” tournament is set to begin in Edmonton, Canada, with the 2020 calendar year coming to a close with the start of the 2021 World Junior Championship, being held in a contained Rogers Place with the top nations in the hockey world looking to earn glory in the midst of a global pandemic.
Group A will feature hosts Canada defending their title against Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany, with the Canada-Finland showdown on New Year’s Eve likely to decide who will clinch the group. Switzerland and Slovakia will be jockeying for position to try and play spoiler, while Germany, despite the good fortune of no relegation in 2021 due to the pandemic, enters the tournament cold against Finland and Canada back-to-back, after a number of players tested positive for COVID-19 when entering the bubble, forcing them into an extended quarantine.
Group B will feature Russia, Sweden, Czechia, the United States and Austria. While any other year would likely see Sweden continue their 51-game preliminary round win streak that dates back 14 years, and propel Tre Kronor to the top of the group, Sweden too has been forced into extended quarantine in the Edmonton bubble due to positive COVID-19 cases, and have lost coach Tomas Montén in the process, leaving the streak in jeopardy. 2020 Silver medallists Russia would be more than happy to replace Sweden at the top of the table, but will see fierce competition from Team USA and the Czechs, both looking for redemption after disappointing finishes in 2020. And Austria, whose 2019 promotion has turned into an unexpected two-year stay, will look to play spoiler and clinch a spot in the medal round.
Click here to see the full 2020 World Junior Championship schedule
From the perspective of the IHLC, a few interesting facts related to this year’s World Junior Championship:
– Canada enters as incumbent champions for the first time since 2010, and for the tenth time in history
– this is the fifteenth World Junior Championship to be hosted in Canada; Edmonton is hosting for the third time, previously serving as a satellite host in 1995 (won by Canada) and co-hosting with Calgary in 2012 (won by Sweden)
– as previously announced, the original hosts for 2021, Edmonton and Red Deer, will host the 2022 World Junior Championship; no teams will be relegated to, or promoted from, Division IA
– Canada is looking to win Gold on home ice for the first time since 2015, and win back-to-back titles for the first time since winning five straight from 2005 to 2009
– the tournament marks the return of Austria to the Top Division for the first time since 2010
After yesterday’s exhibition victory over Russia, Canada will enter the tournament with the International Hockey Lineal Championship (but potentially without their captain, Kirby Dach), ensuring that the title will run through Group A – who leaves the bubble with the title, and ostensibly World Junior Championship Gold, remains to be seen!