The IIHF World Junior Championship is just what we needed.
2020 has been one of the worst 365-day periods since maybe 1968. 1968 was a tough one for Northern America. Just as we have seen political unrest in the past calendar period, so did 1968. Robert Kennedy was assassinated, the Democratic National Convention was marred with violence, and anti-war protests were being held across the country.
NASA was feverishly trying to put a man on the moon by December 31st, 1969, and trouble with the lunar lander was complicating things. NASA needed a win. NASA needed to prove we could get men to the moon and back safely. A proof-of-concept kind of win. In August of 1968, they switched up missions and planned a late December launch, the first from Cape Kennedy in Florida.
The Mission launched December 21st and splashed down on December 27, Giving NASA and the people of the world a win they so desperately needed.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) faced many of the same obstacles that NASA faced. The political climate had shifted meaning that not many people expected the annual World Junior Championships (WJC) to even take place amid the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.
So just like NASA in 1968, the IIHF decided to take a chance and take a slapper from the blue line in double overtime of Game 7. Using the same game plan put into action in 1968. They put together an aggressive plan that they allowed to be free-flowing and ready for the unknown.
Ten teams were invited to Edmonton Canada. The National Hockey league had used Edmonton as one of two cities to create a “bubble-type atmosphere in August and September to hold the 2020 NHL playoff. The IIHF used the NHL playbook this time. The ten teams were able to quarantine, practice, and even have a tune-up game before Round-robin play began.
While the NHL conducted over 30,000 COVID-19 tests and did not have a single positive test comeback. The IIHF did not get so lucky. The German team was hit with an outbreak. Approximately 15 players tested positive for the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus. The IIHF was ready and with protocols already in place, they remained calm and just went about things as if it were business as usual.
Normally and this is anything but a normal year, the tournament is held in two cities. The two groups of five teams play four games in six days. Not this year. The IIHF kept everyone together and held the World Junior group games over seven days. The final day of round-robin play would be the final day of this year we all needed saving from.
Three games almost every day for a week. The World Junior opening night gave us a heavyweight bout. The IIHF scheduled one of the biggest rivalries in international hockey the Eagles of the US of A against the big bad Bears of Russia. The two undercard matchups featured Switzerland facing Slovakia first followed by powerhouse Finland opening against a depleted German team.
Host Canada would get an easy matchup against Germany on Boxing Day, a national holiday in Canada. Each day we either got a great game such as the Slovaks upsetting the Russians on day three, or we got a little unwatchable hockey like on day two when the losing three teams only scored 3 goals. Sweden who scored seven goals that day could have beaten the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria all by themselves.
The Battle for first place in each group went down to the last day. New Year’s Eve saw Canada and Finland fight for group A in a winner take all match. In group B the Swedes, who had a 56-game preliminary round winning streak that started in 2006 come to an end against Russia, would face an American team that had not allowed a goal since opening night. The Americans could win group B for the first time in recent memory.
Today on the second day of 2021 the quarter-finals are being played. Russia second in group B is taking on a German team that has faced all kinds of adversity in the city of Edmonton. The second game of the day pits two of the favorites to win the gold medal Finland and Sweden. Game three sees the hosts take on a Czech team that did upset the Russians. And the final game of this beginning to the New Year semi-surprising USA will get the testy Slovaks.
Whether we get close heated action with an upset or the status quo reigns supreme, there is one thing I will take away from this year’s version of the WJC.
Back in 1968 as the three astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were making their way back to the earth and after an extremely successful mission that included ten orbits of the moon and a Christmas Eve television broadcast, they had a bit of downtime. Mission control decided to read them some of the telegrams (1968’s version of E-mail) that had been received. They got messages from President Johnson, Queen Elizabeth, and many other world leaders. The one I remember hearing about the most came for just an ordinary American woman. Her words were not eloquent or even special. Her simple telegram said, “Thank you for saving 1968.”
To every single person who welp put the world Juniors, from the head of the IIHF, to the 19- and 18-year-old young men playing this wonderful game, the Zamboni drivers and the guy who turned the lights off each night.
I say, “THANK YOU FOR GIVING 2020 A WIN!!!”
It should be some great hockey!!!!
Till next time Hockey FANS.
Do not forget to drop me a comment or three
Remember by a fan, for the fans, and most definitely About YOU the FAN.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing