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Slovakian goalie calls world juniors 'a joke,' criticizes organizers, COVID protocols

Slovakia's goaltender at the world junior hockey championship says that this year's tournament was "a joke.

Slovakia's goaltender at the world junior hockey championship says that this year's tournament was "a joke."

Simon Latkoczy criticized the event's organizers in a pair of Instagram posts on Thursday after the International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled the under-20 men's world championship after players on three teams had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"I came here and tried to do my best and this is how it is done? This goes on IIHF. They completely underestimated this tournament," said Latkoczy in the first of two lengthy posts. "The organization from the first day was terrible. I felt like I am participating at some basic youth hockey tournament."

Although Latkoczy's Instagram account is not verified, his club team in the USHL confirmed it is his.

The IIHF announced seven new positive COVID-19 tests from the world junior hockey championship on Thursday, following the cancellation of the tournament the day before.

A member of the Canadian team tested positive. as did two members of Sweden's team, as well as one member each from Russia, Germany and Slovakia. An on-ice official also returned a positive test.

The IIHF called off the tournament held four days into play on Wednesday after two players from the United States and a player from Russia and Czechia previously tested positive, resulting in the forfeiture of games.

Latkoczy said in his second Instagram post that COVID-19 protocols at this year's tournament stood in stark contrast to the 2020-21 edition, which was also held in Alberta.

"Last year we spent whole tournament in bubble just at our hotel and at the rink. It was crazy but it worked," said Latkoczy. "The people who worked for us were in the bubble with us during all tournament. They did not go home at all."

This year, however, Latkoczy said that his team's hotel in Red Deer, Alta., was still open to the public. He said that included a barber shop, a boutique, a "packed" restaurant, and even a wedding while Slovakia's junior team was staying in the hotel.

"The people who worked at the hotel or waitresses who worked for us went home every night," he wrote. "True, every one has been tested every day but we know that the positive cases do not have to show up right after being in contact with someone. So how does it make a sense?"

He was also disappointed that the tournament was cancelled after so few cases — his posts went up several hours before the IIHF announced seven new positive tests on Thursday — and that the international governing body couldn't find a solution.

"They could at least try to figure out something how to finish this tournament," said Latkoczy. "They did not, they decided to end this tournament like it is some pointless couple games for some random guys who spent the holidays in Canada."

He then concluded by thanking the Slovakian hockey federation, his teammates and coaches for the abbreviated time they had together.

"This was supposed to be special," said the 19-year-old. "It is just sad end of our junior hockey ages."

Latkoczy was not the only participant in the tournament to express disappointment at its cancellation.

The German Ice Hockey Federation posted a statement on its Instagram account on how hard it was to see the event end prematurely.

"It's a bitter disappointment for the players, the coaches and the entire staff," read the statement. "But we can understand the decision from a health point of view and will now do everything we can to bring the U20 national team home healthy."

U.S. captain Jake Sanderson said it was "such a heartbreaking finish" to the tournament.

Finnish defenceman Kasper Puutio said on social media "Heartbroken with thousands of memories, brothers for life."

American coach Nate Leaman said he and his staff were very proud of their players.

"We are crushed for them," Leaman said. "They represented USA the right way and are winners."


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2021.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press