January 2021The New Year started as it always has for the last 45 years, at the World Junior Championship. Red Deer was removed as co-host so Hockey Canada could create as 10-team bubble for everyone in Edmonton. Rogers Place was empty, but the games went on safely. The low point was when Germany had to face Canada with a mere 15 skaters because of Covid protocols, but the high point came when the hosts faced their geographic rivals in the gold-medal game. The U.S. spoiled the party, winning 2-0, on goals by Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras, and a shutout by Spencer Knight. It was their fifth all-time gold at the U20, and the fourth time they defeated Canada to win it. Zegras led all scorers with 18 points, the most in a decade at the U20. He went on to create the most buzz-worthy goal of 2021, with Anaheim, using “the Michigan” from behind the net to set up Sonny Milano for a one-of-a-kind goal.
April-May 2021The men’s U18 was scheduled to take place in Plymouth, Michigan, USA Hockey’s home base for its marquee NTDP, but once again Covid prevented the tournament from going ahead as planned. The Dallas Stars with their facilities in Frisco and Plano, Texas, however, stood up and hosted a couple of weeks later, and the bubbled event took place safely and successfully. It was the first IIHF event ever held in the Lone Star State.
Nearly 20 years after the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry began, Texas can also lay claim to the start of another Canada-Russia pairing in 15-year-old Connor Bedard, and 16-year-old Matvei Michkov. Both were sensational for their teams, but Canada had its best U18 roster in years and won gold with a perfect 7-0 record, scoring 51 goals and allowing only 12.
Meanwhile, the round-robin in Frisco (Group B) played host to one of the most memorable World Junior games of all time. Russia beat the U.S., 7-6, in overtime, on a Nikita Chibrikov goal. The Americans led 2-0, 5-1, and 6-4, but couldn’t hold the lead, and the Russians stormed back to tie the game in the third before winning in OT.
May-June 2021The World Championship had its latest start and finish ever (21 May to 6 June) because of Covid, and arenas had to be empty for most games, but again the IIHF and host Riga managed to pull off a successful event. Minsk was removed as co-host for safety concerns, giving Riga sole hosting rights as it had in 2006, the last and only previous time the Worlds had been held in Latvia. Canada won gold, which in and of itself would come as no surprise to any hockey fan, but it won in a manner never before achieved in 92 years of World Championship play. Canada lost its first three games of the round robin, yet rallied to win with a series of great games along with a little luck with other results.
During that 0-3 run, Latvia beat Canada for the first time ever, and the U.S. beat them, 5-1, the worst result in that WM rivalry. But when forward Andrew Mangiapane came out of quarantine, the Canadian team was different. He played MVP hockey the rest of the way, and Nick Paul scored the golden goal in OT to give Canada gold. They defeated Finland, which had bested Canada in the previous year’s gold-medal game. The lesser-known Finns were led by towering captain Markko Anttila.
At the other end of the spectrum, because of the late start, the late-running NHL playoffs, and Covid worries, the Swedes iced a team that finished a shocking 9th, its worst placing since 1937 (9th also). Along the way, the Danes beat Tre Kronor for the first time ever, 4-3, on the first day of the tournament.
August-September 2021There was no more divisive, disappointing, controversial, and, in the end, feel-good story, than the Women’s World Championship. It had been scheduled for Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada, for April 2020, but same as all other IIHF tournaments that spring was cancelled when Covid was at its apex. A year later, those hosts were ready again, but only a short time before the start date it was pushed back and then cancelled by the provincial government one day before team arrival. Women from around the hockey world spoke out, but behind the scenes the IIHF and Hockey Canada kept their promise and worked towards an alternate plan, and the WW took place in an empty arena and bubble in late August, in Calgary.
In the early going, the star of the show was American Hilary Knight, who became the all-time goals leader at the Women’s Worlds. A bit later, Hungary defeated Denmark, 5-1, for its first ever WW win, and in the playoffs the Swiss staged a sensational rally to defeat ROC, 3-2, in overtime of the quarter-finals.
But those were all preambles to another great gold medal game between the North Americans. The U.S. was favoured because they were not only reigning Olympic champions, they had also won the last five WW tournaments dating back to 2013. But Canada rallied from a 2-0 deficit, and captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who has two gold-medal winning goals at the Olympics to her credit, wired a hard shot crossbar and in to win it for Canada for the first time in a decade.