Welcome to a new weekly column called Snap Shots. Since Blake Isaacs has stepped away from writing his Blake’s Takes column, I will fill the void with my weekly recap of the biggest, most interesting, or most fun things that happened in hockey over the past week.
A lot of news this week has to do with how COVID-19 continues to mess up hockey for everyone. But not all of the news is bad. We also had the coldest Winter Classic in history (Brrrrr!) and four — count ’em, four — new goalies make their NHL debuts.
1. World Junior Championships Gets Canceled
Last week, the IIHF canceled the 2022 World Junior Championships just four days into the tournament, due to numerous players testing positive for COVID-19. The United States had to forfeit its game against Switzerland after two U.S. players tested positive. The next day, both Czechia and Russia had to forfeit their games due to COVID cases. After that, the tournament was canceled. That is unfortunate, but it makes sense, given how easily the new omicron variant seems to be spreading.
Since the games were held in Alberta, I know that North American fans were digging the American-and-Canadian-friendly start times. Games between two European teams were scheduled for earlier in the day, and games featuring the United States or Canada were slotted for prime time. It’s way more fun to follow the WJC when the games are on at 7 p.m. and not 4 a.m.
I am surprised how fast things got out of hand, though. But then again, maybe not, as players and team personnel were sharing hotels with the general public, including a wedding party that players had interacted with. After the tournament was canceled, another six players and one on-ice official also tested positive.
American fans were hoping for Team USA to repeat as WJC champs, and Canadian fans wanted to see their junior team avenge last year’s loss — but like so many other things, that will just have to wait another year.
2. NHL Will Not Send Players to Olympics
The NHL and NHLPA both agreed that it won’t be sending its players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China next month, due to the recent and rapid surge in COVID-19 cases. Many NHL players have been put on the “COVID Protocol Lists,” and numerous games have been postponed.
Also influencing this decision is the quarantine rules set by the International Olympic Committee: if a player tested positive for COVID at the Olympics, they would have to quarantine in China for three to five weeks. The Olympic Games itself is 18 days, so a player who tests positive would most likely miss several NHL games once the Olympics wraps up. Hell, imagine how much it would suck if, say, Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane tested positive for COVID the day of the gold medal game, had to miss that game, then had to quarantine in China five weeks while his NHL team played without him. That’s a worst-case scenario, for sure, but it still makes you think.
Bruins winger Brad Marchand — who had a legitimate shot at being part of the Canadian Olympic team — was upset by the NHL and NHLPA’s decision, and vented his frustration on Twitter:
— Brad Marchand (@Bmarch63) December 28, 2021
Just as it is disappointing for the World Junior Championships to get canceled, having another Winter Olympics without NHL participation is also depressing. Although I will admit, it was fun seeing Germany do so well in 2018. They lost the gold medal game to Russia, but forced the game to OT and had nothing to be ashamed of.
Still, it will be interesting to see what mix of collegiate, minor pro, and former NHL players fill out the Olympic hockey rosters. Maybe a former NHL player will have a good run in the Olympics and make a comeback, much like Brian Boyle did after he captained the United States to a bronze medal at the 2021 World Championships.
3. Tons of NHL Games Postponed
As of Sunday, January 2, a total of 74 NHL games have been postponed thus far, with another 17 upcoming games also set to be postponed.
At first, many of the postponements were because a large number of players and/or team staff tested positive at once, causing a team to shut down and quarantine. Right before Christmas, 15% of NHL players were in COVID protocol. The NHL then decided to postpone several games after Christmas.
Soon after, Canada imposed new attendance restrictions, causing some teams to postpone games until they can allow a full crowd — or enough attendance for the games to be at least profitable, I assume. The Maple Leafs decided to play games without fans in attendance.
With the NHL now pulling its participation in the Olympics, this gives the league 16 days — from February 6 to February 22 — to schedule some makeup games. It will also have to add games after the end of the regular season so that all teams play an 82-game schedule.
4. Wild Host, Blues Win, Coldest Winter Classic
Not everything that happened last week was bad news. On January 1, the Minnesota Wild hosted the 2022 Winter Classic at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. It was also the coldest Winter Classic since the league started holding the outdoor game in 2007. Prior to puck drop, the temperature in Minneapolis was negative-6-degrees — but felt like negative-25-degrees with the wind chill. That didn’t stop the visiting St. Louis Blues from treating this like a day at the beach:
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) January 1, 2022
Blues players strolled into the arena wearing Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, and flip-flops, as if they were playing a game in Florida instead of
Southern Canada Minnesota. By puck drop, it was negative-8-degrees, and by the third period, the temperature was negative-10-degrees. In 33 outdoor NHL games, this was the first game to be played in temperatures below zero degrees. (But it was a positive-68-degrees in my living room, where I watched the game on TV.)
For the most part, the Blues made the game look like a day at the beach, scoring five goals in the second period and winning 6-4. Jordan Kyrou scored two goals and assisted on two others that period. His four points are the most points scored by one player in an NHL outdoor game.
— Sal J. Barry (@PuckJunk) January 2, 2022
Overall, the game was entertaining, with back-and-forth scoring early on, and then that outburst by the Blues midgame. Plus, it’s always fun to hear Wayne Gretzky, Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Rick Tocchet banter back and forth during the pregame and intermissions on TNT broadcasts.
With all the problems that COVID has caused for hockey so far, it was nice that the Winter Classic was able to take place this year. Let’s hope we can say the same about the NHL All-Star Game next month.
5. Four New Goalies Make NHL Debut
Thanks to everyone’s least-favorite global pandemic, four goalies made their NHL debut over the past four days. Teams had to dig deep, pushing their third or fourth-string netminders into action, as COVID sidelined one — or sometimes both — of the team’s regular goalies.
Felix Sandstrom, Philadelphia Flyers
(3rd on Flyers’ Depth Chart)
NHL Debut: December 30, 2021
With Carter Hart on COVID protocol, the Flyers recalled Felix Sandstrom and started him against the Sharks on December 30. Sandstrom allowed three goals in a 3-2 overtime loss.
Hugo Alnefelt, Tampa Bay Lightning
(4th on Lightning’s Depth Chart)
NHL Debut: December 30, 2021
After Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott were put on COVID protocol, the Bolts recalled Maxime Legace and Hugo Alnefelt. Lagace started against the Panthers, allowed six goals, and was replaced by Alnefelt. He allowed another three goals, and the Lightning lost 9-3.
Arvid Soderblom, Chicago Blackhawks
(4th on Blackhawks’ Depth Chart)
NHL Debut: January 1, 2022
With both Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen on COVID protocol, the Blackhawks recalled Collin Delia and Arvid Soderblom. The Swedish netminder was put in to relieve Delia after he allowed three goals, as the Blackhawks lost 6-1 to the Predators. The next night, Soderblom got the start against the Flames, and allowed four goals in a 5-1 loss.
Zach Sawchenko, San Jose Sharks
(4th on Sharks’ Depth Chart)
NHL Debut: January 2, 2022
After James Reimer allowed six goals in the first period against the Penguins, Sharks call-up Sawchenko got his shot to stop shots. Sawchenko only allowed one goal, and the Sharks rallied with four straight goals, but ultimately fell 8-5.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■