Speaking on the final day of the 2020 World Junior Championship tournament earlier today, IIHF President Rene Fasel revealed updates on several issues of note. When it comes to the NHL, the major issue continues to be Olympic participation, and Fasel was clear that the clock is ticking on a decision for the Beijing Winter Games in 2022. The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy relays that Fasel would like a definitive answer prior to the final qualification games for the next Olympic tournament, which will take place in September. He has requested an answer by the end of August. While Olympic participation has been a major talking point in collective bargaining discussions between the NHL and NHLPA, those talks have cooled since both sides opted to extend the current agreement. It remains to be seen if and when the issue will be debated again in the next nine months. The NHL sat out the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, citing the disruption of the league season – both in scheduling and potential player injuries – and the lack of financial benefit to the NHL. While neither of those issues are going away, one has to think that locale has amplified these negative effects of participation, as the NHL clearly didn’t see much value in Pyeongchang, South Korea and quite possibly might feel the same about Beijing, China in 2022 and Milan and Cortina, Italy in 2026. Yet, Fasel still feels optimistic about the NHL’s return to the Olympics, stating that if Commissioner Gary Bettman is smart, “They will come in the end, I hope so.”
- As for another important international tournament in hockey, Fasel confirmed that the World Junior Championships will not be impacted by the recent four-year ban on international participation placed on Russia by the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA placed the ban on Russia, which was similarly prohibited from participation at the last Winter Olympics, after evidence emerged that the country tampered with hundreds of samples and also engaged in improper behavior toward whistle-blowers. The ban prevents any Russian athlete implicated in a positive doping test from participation in major international events, requires all others to compete as “Authorized Neutral Athletes”, and bans Russia from hosting any international events. However, these sanctions will by and large not impact the WJC. Not only did Russia participate in this year’s tournament under their own flag, but they will play for a gold medal today against Canada. The country will continue to participate as such and Fasel also added that they will still be able to host the event in Novosibirsk and Omsk in 2023. Of course, any players found to be doping will still be prohibited from participating, but otherwise the Russian entry into the top junior tournament will be safe.
- As for this year’s tournament, while the results of the bronze medal and gold medal games are still yet to be decided today, this morning’s contest had the more important result as it pertains to planning for next year. Germany and Kazakhstan played a winner-take-all relegation match earlier, after Kazakhstan stunned Germany in Game Two of the series on Saturday with their first non-regulation loss result of the entire tournament. However, Germany shook off that loss with a convincing 6-0 win on Sunday morning to avoid relegation. As quickly as they re-entered the top level of World Junior participation this year, Kazakhstan will head back down next year. They will be replaced by Austria in 2021, the surprise victor of the “A” class tournament back in December.