By Lori Bennett
Special to Wreckhouse Press
Just like every other facet of our lives, the World Juniors are at the mercy of COVID-19. On Wednesday, December 29, the 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship was cancelled “due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.”
The decision came following a confirmed positive test of a player on the Russian national team which would have necessitated the forfeiture of a third game. With the integrity of the tournament compromised, the decision was made to cancel.
The tournament has been as much a staple of Canadian households during the Christmas holiday season as a night of mummering in rural Newfoundland. But the tournament has been more than entertainment while we guzzle our hot chocolate. The 10-day event has been a prime opportunity for fans to watch the top hockey prospects in the world. The event may have been cut short, but a few of these kids still gave us something to talk about.
In Canada’s first game, it was Owen Power who turned heads. The first overall pick of the 2021 draft, selected by the Buffalo Sabres, made Canadian World Juniors history. Power became the first Canadian defenceman to score a hat trick in the history of the tournament. The 19-year-old giant is developing at the University of Michigan, but if he continues to impress, he won’t be there long.
In Game 2 for Team Canada, it was Connor Bedard etching his name in the history books. In a four-goal performance, he became the youngest player to ever score a hat trick at the World Juniors and tied Canada’s single game record for goals. The 16-year-old is expected to be the top prospect for the 2023 draft, so NHL teams have a while to long for him before he is even available.
Matvei Michkov, a right winger on the Russian national team, is another top prospect who is draft-eligible in 2023 and may challenge Bedard for the first overall pick. He scored three goals in two games. Michkov has signed a five-year deal in Russia, which may be a distraction for some teams when his draft year arrives. But his talent will be too much to resist and some team will draft an elite talent even if they have to wait for him.
The top prospect in the 2022 draft was nowhere near as visible. Centreman Shane Wright is expected to be the first overall pick this summer, and he went to Alberta with something to prove after being cut from last year’s Team Canada. After two games, Wright had just one assist. Unfortunately for the kid, the tournament was cut short and he didn’t get a chance to redeem himself.
The IIHF is reportedly considering whether the tournament can be rescheduled for the summer, but it is unclear whether this is doable in time to give teams a final look before the draft. Like everything else, I suspect COVID will have a say.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreational softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. Originally from NL and now based in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or debate, as long as it remains respectful. She posts game time thoughts on twitter as @lori10habs.