World Junior Championship: Shocks and Upsets

It is no surprise that with all the chaos around the world, some of it would be present in the World Junior Hockey Championship.

This year’s World Junior Tournament was held in Alberta, Canada. Every game was held at Roger’s Place, the home of the Edmonton Oilers during the NHL season. With hockey on pause for around three months (Stanley Cup Championships ended in late September), this tournament had been long anticipated by many hockey fans around the world. However, because of the new NHL format with an all-Canadian league due to border control issues, it was widely questioned if this tournament would still take place. Despite all the contemplation, the World Junior Hockey Championships still went on.

On Dec. 24, it was announced that eight players from Team Germany, along with two staff members from Team Sweden had caught COVID-19. While it did not impact Sweden significantly (having already lost four players), the Germans lost half their bench, players who all brought different levels of individuality and skill. Despite the circumstances, Germany still managed to make it to the quarterfinals, in which they were eliminated by Russia. Another case of COVID-19 occurred during training camps, to Team USA’s John Beecher. Many analysts expected him to do well, but ultimately he and his roommate were sent home due to safety and health protocols. 

Another major shock for many fans was the status of a few key players from last year. Team Germany’s captain from 2020, Moritz Seider opted out of attending the tournament altogether this year. He instead decided to stay with his current team Rögle of the Swedish Hockey League. One of Team Canada’s best players and 2020 first overall draft pick, Alexis Lafreniere also missed the tournament. It was announced during the first week in December that Lafreniere would not be released (allowed to play) by the New York Rangers, and therefore would be unable to compete at the World Juniors. Similarly to Lafreniere, USA’s Jack Hughes was also unreleased by his organization, due to their fear of him getting injured, and was therefore deemed unable to play.

Lastly, one of the tournament’s largest upsets was the injury that occurred early on in the tournament. During Canada’s first game, captain Kirby Dach sustained a wrist fracture against Russia. While the team went on to win the game 1-0, Dach was quickly flown to Chicago, where he played during the NHL season. There, he got wrist surgery that will put his season on pause for the next four to five months. Many Chicago and Canadian fans were quite disappointed, as Dach was projected to have an impressive tournament after doing so well in the NHL playoffs. 

Overall, this year’s tournament was anything but normal, due to our current environment. While the situations that took place were not ideal, at the end of the day, all the players were just delighted to be able to play the sport they love, and represent their country while doing it.