The International Hockey Lineal Championship only saw two champions hold the title thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, with defending champions Canada holding the title for all but five days in 2020.
Team USA carried the IHLC into the calendar year, but were upended in a defensive 1-0 loss to Finland in the Quarterfinals. The Leijonat were quickly upended by Canada two days later, being thrashed 5-0 in Ostrava to send Canada to the finals against their Russian rivals, meeting for Gold for the ninth time in World Juniors history. In a wild, penalty-filled game that saw a TV camera act as Canada’s saviour late in the game, it was an Akil Thomas goal with 3:58 left in regulation that sent Canada back to the top of the podium for the first time since 2018 in a thrilling 4-3 victory.
Thanks to the pandemic, however, the standard World Junior Summer Showcase, earmarked for Plymouth, Michigan, USA in July, was quickly converted first to a three-team tournament, and then U.S.-only camp, and then cancelled outright, due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in the United States over the summer. Other nations held insulated mini-camps, with some European teams holding short exhibition series against neighbouring countries. While the World Juniors for 2021 were in question, the success of the NHL playoff bubble in Alberta prompted the IIHF to hold the entire tournament in the same bubble, behind closed doors, with the 2022 tournament to resume, hopefully with fans, in Edmonton and Red Deer.
Despite not having the home ice crowd advantage in Edmonton, Canada cruised to the top of Group A in the World Juniors Preliminary Round, after defeating Russia in their lone exhibition game, but losing captain Kirby Dach to an injury in the process. Canada went undefeated in the preliminary round for the first time since 2015, outscoring opponents 33-4 en route to the top of the group.
The following games were contested over the junior IHLC in 2020 (click for game recaps and boxscores):
538. 🇫🇮 FIN 1-0 USA 🇺🇸 – 02 Jan 2020 – WJC – Třinec 🇨🇿
539. 🇨🇦 CAN 5-0 FIN 🇫🇮 – 04 Jan 2020 – WJC – Ostrava 🇨🇿
540. 🇨🇦 CAN 4-3 RUS 🇷🇺 – 05 Jan 2020 – WJC – Ostrava 🇨🇿 🏅
541. 🇨🇦 CAN 1-0 RUS 🇷🇺 – 23 Dec 2020 – EX – Edmonton 🇨🇦
542. 🇨🇦 CAN 16-2 GER 🇩🇪 – 26 Dec 2020 – WJC – Edmonton 🇨🇦
543. 🇨🇦 CAN 3-1 SVK 🇸🇰 – 27 Dec 2020 – WJC – Edmonton 🇨🇦
544. 🇨🇦 CAN 10-0 SUI 🇨🇭 – 29 Dec 2020 – WJC – Edmonton 🇨🇦
545. 🇨🇦 CAN 4-1 FIN 🇫🇮 – 31 Dec 2020 – WJC – Edmonton 🇨🇦
Canada will now carry the IHLC into the elimination round, facing the Czechs first in their Quarterfinals, ensuring again that the IHLC and Gold will unite, now for the 15th year in a row. Whether Canada can go back to back, or if the winner of Group B (Russia, Sweden or Team USA) will have an extra edge to take on the defending champs remains to be seen, but it will surely be a thrilling final in the Edmonton bubble.