Looking back, and forward to Christmas
by Martin Merk|20 AUG 2022
Henrik Bach Nielsen and Luc Tardif.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Prior to the medal games of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, IIHF President Luc Tardif and Henrik Bach Nielsen, IIHF Regional Vice-President and Chairman of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship Directorate, met the accredited media to sum up the tournament and have an outlook to the new season.

“Last time we had a press conference, we had to communicate the difficult decision to cancel the World Juniors because we had too many COVID cases. But we said at that time that the kids and the organizing committee deserved to have a way to play it at a later date. It’s a busy hockey calendar and we found August as the only time to play it and the most important thing is to have organized and to finish this tournament. We promised and we did it,” Luc Tardif started the press conference.

“We’ll have had 28 games here in one arena. It worked very well, there were no major issues. The demand to organize it at this level is high and they did a hell of a job,” said Henrik Bach Nielsen. “Injuries have never been lower than this year. We had no Covid cases. In our mind we think Covid is over but in many sporting events it still comes up like last month at the Tour de France. We stuck to the protocol and had zero cases.”

Having the World Juniors rescheduled in August was a different experience but also one the IIHF hopes not to repeat.

“We are happy with the quality and involvement of the teams, for which it was not so easy to come here. We knew that August is not the best time. We didn’t expect the attendance that we usually have. It was an experience and we won’t do it again unless we have to for some reason,” said Luc Tardif. “I want to look forward rather than backward. What is important is that the ticket sale is going well for Halifax and Moncton.”

Nearly 50,000 fans entered the priority draw for the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton with the public ticket sale to the public starting in September if any inventory remains.

“August is not a hockey month but it was the only possible date,” echoed Henrik Bach Nielsen, who as President of the Danish Ice Hockey Union will soon have a similar experience hosting the IIHF Women’s World Championship  in Herning and Frederikshavn starting next week. 

“Especially for Canadians, the World Juniors is a Christmas thing and I’m happy to go back to the normal schedule in Halifax and Moncton in winter. The World Juniors is a very good brand. It has been a success during the Christmas holidays for many years. This is a one-time experience that we had to do it in August.”

Beside the World Juniors, several other tournaments in the men’s U20 and women’s U18 categories originally scheduled in winter had to be postponed including many in the lower divisions. Just ten days before starting in Edmonton one tournament finished in Mexico, and after the Women’s Worlds in Denmark there will be the last two tournaments of the old season in Austria and Serbia. 

The biggest cancelled event beside the World Juniors was the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship that was moved from winter to summer and from Sweden to the United States to make it happen. The tournament concluded successfully in June with Canada winning gold In Madison. 

“By September all tournaments will have been played although some countries that didn’t manage to participate will have missed three years. But we played all tournaments. It was not always easy. With the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship we found a new host with Madison, and we found new dates because everybody really wanted to play,” Luc Tardif said.

One question from the media was whether the financial burden due to COVID-19 will have consequences for the IIHF.

“We are financially in good shape. We lost some income but we also spent less money. But more important is that we lost some development in hockey because of the pandemic,” said Henrik Bach Nielsen.

“We went through and sometimes it’s good to have a good insurance. We are financially still alive and what is important is to keep our activities alive. We sometimes played in a bubble because of Covid, we have to play without Russia because of the war and we cannot do anything about it. When there’s a pandemic and a war many things change, teams cannot travel that easily,” said Luc Tardif.

Another question from media representatives was about the IIHF’s position and potential measures due to the allegations against Hockey Canada. At this point IIHF has not initiated its own investigation into the allegations but has submitted an inquiry to Hockey Canada for information on the cases. Domestic investigations are currently underway by police and government authorities in Canada. 

“We have been following what is going on. It is a national affair and it’s not good for ice hockey. I’m happy that the investigation will be reopened. When we know the facts and those involved, we are going to take our responsibility but only after the official investigation,” said Luc Tardif.

“The most important thing is the investigation of the police and the legal system. Hockey Canada will have to give us the same level of information as to the hearing committee. We met with the chair of the board and had good discussions about the process. We will then refer to the IIHF Ethics Board to analyze how Hockey Canada treated this case, whether it was in accordance with our Statutes & Bylaws.”

For the past few years, the IIHF has also held integrity sessions at the IIHF World Junior Championship and other junior tournaments with topics including abuse, harassment, anti-doping and match fixing. These were attended by all players from all teams and also joined by staff members in Edmonton (see story).

“It is our goal not only to build high-level hockey players but also high-level citizens,” said Luc Tardif.

“We had a workshop with every team and the leaders and they took it very positive also with the timing. We have done it since 2019,” Henrik Bach Nielsen said.

The war in Ukraine was another topic and the President answered questions on what has been done to help Ukraine keep hockey alive.

“When the war started, the solidarity of the IIHF family was fantastic. Hundreds of players had the chance to go and play in other countries in Europe with the support of many national ice hockey associations. The NHL and NHLPA also participated with equipment support, the IOC helped. We helped the men’s senior and U18 national teams to go and train abroad and be able to participate in our tournaments. We had to organize buses from the border, find places where they can play, find places to live for the players and their families. Most of them are still abroad and we don’t know when they can return. When I look at everything that was done, I’m proud to be the IIHF President,” said Luc Tardif.

Luc Tardif also confirmed that Russia and Belarus remain suspended from participation in IIHF events for the 2022/2023 season as decided in May by the 2022 IIHF Annual Congress. “We do it year by year. For the 2022/2023 season they are not going to play.”

At the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, the bottom-seeded team Latvia surprised by beating Czechia, reaching the quarter-finals and finishing better than ever in seventh place. That also caused the question whether 10 teams is the right number for the tournament.

“It is our goal to develop the teams but we don’t want to do it too early,” Luc Tardif answered the question. “The World Juniors have been one of our best products of the last 10, 15 years and one reason can be that we only have ten teams,” said Henrik Bach Nielsen.

However, Luc Tardif confirmed the intention to one day have another increase for the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship that went up from eight to ten teams in 2019 and for the recent Olympics.

“We went from eight to ten teams and now the teams also below the top division are developing more, have more staff to develop the players, so we may be ready to have 12 teams at some point. It is our job to bring hockey all over the world and we will in the next years invest a lot in hockey development,” the IIHF President concluded.