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Canada's junior hockey team cuts players, while opponents deal with COVID-19 virus

Canada's 25-player roster will be announced following intrasquad games Wednesday and Thursday.
Team Canada celebrates after defeating Russia in the gold medal game at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. The Canadian junior hockey team says it will resume its selection camp on Tuesday after completing a 14-day quarantine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Canada's junior hockey team was minus a few players following a two-week quarantine.

Five players were released Tuesday before Canada could get back on the ice to prepare for the upcoming world junior men's hockey championship in Edmonton.

Defencemen Matthew Robertson, Mason Millman and Daemon Hunt and forwards Ridly Greig and Xavier Simoneau were "unfit to continue to play based on return-to-play protocols," according to Hockey Canada senior vice-president of national teams Scott Salmond.

"This is not a hockey decision," Salmond said on a conference call. "This is a health decision based on return-to-play protocols. They were unable to continue with camp today. Feel horribly for those kids."

Canada's selection camp in Red Deer, Alta., halted Nov. 26 after two players and one non-core staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

The nine international teams, scheduled to arrive in Edmonton by charter flight Sunday, are dealing with coaches and players testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel announced Tuesday that he too has tested positive, while saying the Dec. 25 to Jan. 5  tournament will go ahead.

"Preparations will continue within the IIHF for the upcoming 2021 IIHF world junior championship," Fasel said in a statement.

Any player, coach or support staff who tested positive for the virus after Nov. 29 is ineligible to enter Edmonton's "bubble."

Participating countries must conduct their training camps in isolation this week. All personnel will be tested three times over seven days.

Another five-day quarantine with daily testing awaits upon arrival in Edmonton. Exhibition games are planned for Dec. 20-23.

An eight-team minimum is required for the tournament to go ahead, Salmond said.

Canada's first opponent, Germany, will be without forwards Lukas Reichel and Nino Kinder. Their federation said Tuesday in a social media post the players contracted the virus.

Swedish coach Tomas Monten, assistant coach Anders Lundberg and a video coach have also tested positive.

Four Swedish players have been removed from that country's roster in the last four days: William Eklund, Karl Henriksson, William Wallinder and Albin Grewe.

"This is obviously worrying and a difficult situation where our ultimate responsibility is the safety of players and leaders," Swedish federation secretary-general Johan Stark said in a statement on the organization's website.

"This is a serious situation from a safety perspective and we must follow this hour by hour. We also have a close dialogue with the International Ice Hockey Federation to describe our situation and review our alternatives."

Canada's deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo reiterated the tournament's safety rules to prevent the spread of infection appear solid because they're modelled on this year's NHL "bubble" in Edmonton.

No personnel within the NHL's hub tested positive over seven weeks of playoffs, according to the league.

"But there's also the situation epidemiologically, what's happening both in Canada, the U.S. and in other countries, so that's something we're keeping an eye on," Njoo said. 

Canada's 25-player roster will be announced following intrasquad games Wednesday and Thursday.

"We're just trying to follow the protocols and make sure we're tight with those things to give us the best chance possible to make sure that we're able to compete in the world juniors," defenceman Bowen Byram said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misidentified Swedish coaches Tomas Monten and Anders Lundberg as players and had the incorrect arrival date for the other teams.

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