IIHF: Women’s world hockey championships in Canada postponed

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FILE – Kendall Coyne Schofield, left, of the United States and Nelli Laitinen of Finland vie for the puck during the IIHF Women’s Ice Hockey World Championships final match between the United States and Finland in Espoo, Finland, in this Sunday, April 14, 2019, file photo. The International Ice Hockey Federation is scrambling to reschedule the women’s world hockey championships after health officials in Nova Scotia, Canada, on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, scrapped holding the tournament next month due to COVID-19 concerns. IIHF chief Rene Fasel told The Associated Press by phone he was blind-sided by the decision, which was made at essentially the last minute. (Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP, File)

The International Ice Hockey Federation is scrambling to reschedule the women’s world hockey championships after health officials in Nova Scotia, Canada, on Wednesday scrapped plans to hold the tournament next month because of COVID-19 concerns.

IIHF chief Rene Fasel told The Associated Press by phone he was blindsided by the decision, which was made at essentially the last minute. Teams were preparing to travel to Canada over the next two days to satisfy the nation’s quarantine regulations for foreign travelers.

“At 5 o’clock this morning, this was a go. At 7:30 it was not,” Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said on a video call with reporters. “Some of this is much, much further beyond our control than we would like.”

The 10-team tournament was scheduled to be held from May 6-16 in Halifax and Truro, the same communities that were supposed to host the event a year ago before it was called off. The IIHF had already pushed back the event’s opening by a month due to recommendations from health officials.

Fasel said the focus is now on rescheduling the tournament to potentially this summer and holding it in either Nova Scotia, elsewhere in Canada or finding another host nation. He said the initial plan is to have Nova Scotia host the event in August.

“We have every intention of making sure we follow through with a women’s world championship here in Canada at a point in the near future,” Renney said. “And beyond that, who’s to say?”

The women’s championship was canceled last year because of the pandemic, and Fasel called it imperative to hold this year’s tournament because it is the final one before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“This is very bad news, very sad. And I feel so bad for the girls,” Fasel said. “They’re looking forward to going and spending two weeks quarantining in Nova Scotia, doing everything possible, and then suddenly, bang. ‘Nope, you cannot come. We closed the border.’”

Fasel said he was was informed of Nova Scotia’s decision shortly before the IIHF was scheduled to hold a meeting earlier in the day.

“I will say the disappointment is really big, but it is like it is. There’s nothing we can do and we have to accept that,” Fasel said. “It has to do with safety. … We have to take it and pull the plug.”

Canada is currently experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, with numerous provinces closing their borders even to inter-provincial travel. The U.S.-Canada border has been closed for 13 months, and all foreign travelers are required to self-quarantine for up to two weeks upon arrival.

“In the end, we must accept the decision of the government,” the IIHF and Hockey Canada said in a joint statement. “We owe it to every single player that was looking forward to getting back on the ice after such a difficult year that we do everything possible to ensure this tournament can be moved to new dates and played this year.”

The U.S. women’s national team completed a recent training camp in Maine. The team had a shakeup at coach with assistant Joel Johnson taking over after head coach Bob Corkum abruptly stepped down citing COVID-19 protocol concerns on Friday.

Hockey Canada president Scott Smith said there was no room for negotiations with Nova Scotia health officials, who expressed comfort in hosting the event as recently as Tuesday. That changed, Hockey Canada officials said, because of a spike in virus cases in the province.

Asked about the optics of the men’s world championships still being scheduled to take place this spring in Latvia, Renney said: “We’re very sensitive to what this might look like. But we’re also more sensitive to public health, this opponent that we can’t see, the ebb and flow of what this looks like worldwide from a health perspective is at the forefront of all of our minds.”

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

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