Pressure is always high for Canada at the world junior hockey championship.
But this year’s team faces a whole host of unusual circumstances.
Not only will the squad be playing summer hockey on home soil when they begin tournament play against Latvia in Edmonton on Wednesday, they’ll be doing so under unique scrutiny.
Hockey Canada has faced intense criticism in recent months for its handling of sexual assault allegations levied against members of former world junior teams.
The allegations prompted parliamentary inquiries and the federal government has frozen its funding of the organization.
Big-name sponsors — including Telus and Canadian Tire – followed suit, leaving the ice at Rogers Place free of ads and the surrounding boards devoid of the usual logos as play gets underway Tuesday with Slovakia taking on Czechia. Later in the day, Finland will face Latvia and Germany will battle the reigning champion Americans.
The buzz and excitement that surrounded the initial 2022 tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., is largely absent.
That iteration of the tournament was called off on Dec. 29 after just four days as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be forfeited.
WATCH l World junior tourney to go ahead amid Hockey Canada controversy:
McTavish, Johnson headline roster
The world juniors are a showcase of the best under-20 players across the globe, but the International Ice Hockey Federation has allowed athletes born in 2002 who have already turned 20 to play in this summer’s championship.
Despite the rejigged eligibility, several big Canadian talents are missing from the tournament, including former captain Kaiden Guhle (a Montreal Canadiens prospect) and defenseman Owen Power, who the Buffalo Sabers selected first overall in the 2021 NHL entry draft.
Forward Shane Wright, taken fourth overall by the Seattle Kraken at the 2022 draft last month, is also absent.
Team Canada will be headlined by Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard, and Mason McTavish and Kent Johnson, who were part of the Olympic men’s team that finished sixth at the Beijing Games.
The delayed 2022 tournament is also missing a big competitive threat, with the International Ice Hockey Federation barring Russia from the 10-team competition over the country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Unlike previous iterations of the tournament, tickets for the 2022 world juniors are still readily available through Ticketmaster, including about 1,300 for Wednesday’s tilt between Canada and Latvia. More than 1,500 seats for the final game of the 11-day tournament are still up grabs, too.