One of Team Canada’s greatest pre-tournament fears was realized Tuesday, when the COVID-19 virus made its way into their dressing room in Red Deer, shutting down their world junior selection camp.
A situation that began with what Hockey Canada described Saturday as a “non-core” staff member testing positive has now expanded into at least two players contracting the virus.
As a result, all team functions for Tuesday were cancelled, including a scheduled Red-White intra-squad game at 10 a.m. and and a 12:30 p.m. media availability with the coach.
Team Canada isn’t saying yet what the plans are for the rest of the week.
Assistant coach Michael Dyck and goaltending coach Jason LaBarbera are already being isolated for 14 days because contact tracing put them in proximity to the first positive test on Saturday. Now, with the virus having spread to players inside the locker-room, the entire team will need to be locked down.
How long the camp stays dark remains to be seen. Everyone who is identified in the contract tracing protocol is supposed to be isolated for 14 days. In an enclosed dressing room, that’s pretty much everyone.
Team Canada played a pair of intra-squad games on Saturday and Sunday, so if the infected players were part of those games, it could mean a massive shut down that would do serious damage to Canada’s preparation.
Hockey Canada is refusing to comment on the subject, although a statement released by senior vice-president Scott Salmond suggests they will resume their regularly scheduled events with everyone who tests negative:
“Hockey Canada confirmed earlier today that two players at Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp have tested positive for COVID-19, and have been placed in quarantine at the team hotel in Red Deer.
“Upon learning of the positive test this morning, the decision was made to postpone the Red-White game scheduled for this morning at the Westerner Park Centrium, and to suspend all camp activities for today.
“For precautionary reasons, we will also ensure that all players and team personnel go through an additional test before resuming camp activities. The appropriate local and provincial health authorities have been made aware of the situation, and we will continue to work closely with Alberta Health Services. We will have no further comment at this time.”
Sports teams carrying on despite positive tests in the room is not new — the NFL has been moving ahead with its schedule with multiple players on multiple teams contracting COVID-19 — but there is a difference between grown men making millions of dollars to fulfill billion-dollar TV contracts and 19-year-old volunteers in a training camp. Alberta also has different rules in place than American NFL cities.
The statement also said: “As per Hockey Canada’s safety protocols, all players, coaches and staff members took mandatory COVID-19 tests upon arrival at camp and have continued to be tested regularly throughout the past 10 days,” so it’s unclear how the virus made its way into the bubble, six days into camp, in the first place.
It’s been a challenging start for the Canadians, who asked for an extended camp so they could catch up with other European countries and NCAA teams that are already playing league games. That’s even more necessary in the wake of the COVID-19 news.
Not only do they have two coaches in isolation, two players testing positive and the potential for many more players being moved into isolation as the result of contact tracing, but three NCAA prospects hoping to make the lineup have yet to skate with the team because of a mandatory 14-day quarantine after arriving in Canada from the United States.
Who knows when the team will finally all be together and safe?
All of this comes against the backdrop of Alberta’s rapidly-rising COVID-19 numbers, which are now out-pacing every other province in the country.
As for the players who tested positive, this is a devastating blow to their chances of making Team Canada. Having to sit out 14 days of selection camp is virtually impossible to recover from.
The Canadians are scheduled to play the University of Alberta Golden Bears this Saturday in the first of a series of tune-up games. The team will move from Red Deer to Edmonton, into the same quarantine bubble the NHL used, on Dec. 13.
The hope is that when Canada and the rest of the teams in the world junior tournament arrive in the Edmonton bubble, they will be as safe as the NHL players were — there wasn’t a single positive teams in two months worth of playoff games at Rogers Place — but getting them here will be the hard part.
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On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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