Edmonton, currently hosting the Stanley Cup playoffs without fans in a COVID-19-free bubble zone, will now do the same for the upcoming world junior hockey championship.
The International Ice Hockey Federation confirmed Thursday that it has accepted a Hockey Canada pitch to have Rogers Place in the city's downtown host the event, without fans in attendance.
"Under careful consideration and a considerable amount of dialogue with the IIHF, it was felt best to continue to prepare to host the 2021 world junior championships (but) without fans," Tom Renney, the head of Hockey Canada, told reporters on a conference call.
"There is still much work to do. We're not there yet, and with a number of (health) compliance components to this, we have work in front of us."
Originally, Edmonton and the city of Red Deer in central Alberta were to host the event starting Dec. 26 and ending Jan. 5, 2021.
Edmonton will now host all the games.
The plan is to still end on Jan. 5, 2021. But with all games now being played on one ice surface in Rogers Place, organizers say they may start the tournament before Boxing Day.
The event will return to Edmonton and Red Deer — with the hope of having fans — in 2022.
Rogers Place currently is hosting the final two rounds of the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs.
Edmonton and Toronto served as co-hosts for the entire NHL post-season. Players have been kept isolated between games, and after more than seven weeks the NHL has reported no positive COVID-19 cases.
Rogers Place is linked to a hotel and has a practice facility under the same roof as the main rink.
"This is a tough decision to have to take, but ultimately we did not have a choice," Rene Fasel, the head of the IIHF, said in a statement.
"The health and safety of players, officials, and fans is our top priority.
"We were impressed with the presentation from the local organizing committee outlining how a potential bubble scenario would operate within Edmonton, and we are confident that we can follow the NHL's great example in creating a safe environment for teams to compete."
The NHL has allowed 52 people per team to be in the isolation zone, and they are tested daily.
Renney said the world junior bubble will be similar but smaller.
"The (junior) bubble is literally the bubble to the point (that) where they're the staying — the hotels that they're in and the arena — are the two venues that they will be in and that's it," said Renney.
"I do believe the National Hockey League (players) had somewhat of an opportunity at least to get out as a group and participate in some events around the city (while still) obviously in their bubble."
Gothenburg, Sweden was slated to host the event next year but will now do so in 2024. Novosibirsk, Russia, will host the 2023 event.
The IIHF said keeping the event in Canada, where the tournament traditionally has much higher attendance, in 2022 can help cover financial losses expected to occur in this year's fan-free games.
"This solution will allow for the IIHF together with Hockey Canada to reduce the overall costs associated with putting on the 2021 tournament in a bubble environment," Fasel said.
"We asked a lot of our Swedish partners to make this adjustment in a short amount of time, but we needed their co-operation to save this tournament and make it possible for the world juniors to be delivered this year."
The IIHF says there will be no promotion or relegation following the 2021 tournament.
Canada won the 2020 event in the Czech Republic.
Also Thursday, the IIHF announced it will cancel all lower division tournaments in the men's U-20 category. The 2021 U-18 women's world championship will also be cancelled together with all other tournaments in the women’s U-18 category.
"Requiring each tournament host to operate a competition 'bubble' is not a practical request for our lower-division tournament organizers, many of whom are already stretched financially from the COVID-19 pandemic," said Fasel.
"The IIHF does not have the resources necessary to properly supervise the safe operation of these tournaments, so that the minimum requirements for COVID-19 health and safety can be met."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press