War, COVID-19, sexual assault scandal: Oddly timed world juniors attract controversy

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The world was a different place in mid-December.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 had yet to truly make its presence felt. Russia had not yet invaded Ukraine. And chilling sexual assault allegations surrounding Hockey Canada were not yet public.

Later that month, the annual men’s world junior hockey tournament barely got off its feet before a spate of positive tests among players and staff forced its postponement.

And so here we are in August, with the world juniors set to begin anew in Edmonton under dramatically different circumstances.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Allegations of a group sexual assault perpetrated by members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team are clouding this year’s tournament. The accusation came to light in May when Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with a woman over the assault alleged to have happened at a post-tournament gathering in London, Ont. The woman, who was 20 at the time, said eight hockey players sexually assaulted her in a hotel room while she was too intoxicated to consent. She claimed the players brought golf clubs to intimidate her, and told her afterward to claim she was sober while pressuring her not to report the incident or cooperate with authorities. The lawsuit also accused Hockey Canada of condoning a “culture and environment that glorified the degradation and sexual exploitation of young women.” The response was swift: sponsors pulled their support, the federal government froze its funding to the organization and a similar incident regarding the 2003 world junior team also surfaced. Further angering the general public was the revelation that Hockey Canada used a slush fund financed by player registration fees to pay off 21 sexual assault settlements totalling $8.9 million since 1989. Amid numerous calls for executive resignations at Hockey Canada, only the chair of the board of directors has stepped down. CBC News learned yesterday that the organization dropped a non-disclosure agreement it had with the woman ahead of parliamentary hearings over the case two weeks ago. Meanwhile, a combination of public outcry and the summer timing of this year’s tournament has resulted in reduced interest and thousands of available tickets even for Canada’s games, which are typically sold out. Read a full breakdown of the Hockey Canada scandal by CBC News’ Ashley Burke here.

WATCH | Hockey Canada drops non-disclosure agreement with complainant:

Hockey Canada drops NDA with complainant in alleged sexual assault case

Hockey Canada has dropped a non-disclosure agreement with the woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a group of players in 2018. Meanwhile, some lawyers and advocates are pushing for NDAs to be banned in some cases altogether.

There won’t be a Russian team. Russia hasn’t won gold since 2011, but the team almost always contends — as evidenced by eight podium appearances since then, including four silver medals. Now, its spot near the top of the perch will be vacated after the International Ice Hockey Federation banned the country, along with its ally Belarus, from its tournaments in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Neither country participated in spring’s men’s world championships, and neither will be in Edmonton either. Additionally, Russia was stripped of hosting rights for both tournaments in 2023. The world juniors will instead head to the Maritimes in just a few months for its usual December holiday schedule, with next year’s men’s worlds rerouted to Finland and Latvia.

Canada’s roster looks different from December. Though organizers altered the age limit so that anyone who was eligible for the under-20 tournament in December remains so, many players opted not to attend. Team Canada underwent nine player changes, including the loss of 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, previous captain Kaiden Guhle and Shane Wright, who was drafted fourth overall by the Seattle Kraken a few months ago. Despite the significant subtractions, Canada remains the betting favourite to win the tournament, in large part because…

…The next great Connor is still around. As in Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., projected to go first overall in next year’s NHL draft and widely considered the best prospect since Connor McDavid in 2015. In the first attempt at playing this tournament, Bedard became the youngest player ever to score four goals in a single game as Canada routed Austria. Beijing 2022 Olympians Mason McTavish, the Ducks forward who was named captain, and Kent Johnson, a Blue Jackets prospect who’ll wear an ‘A,’ are among other potential game-changers up front. But while Canada is returning all three of its goalies, the losses of Power and Guhle could expose the defencemen. Action from Edmonton begins tonight, but Canada won’t hit the ice until it faces Latvia tomorrow. Canada’s other round-robin opponents include Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — which will be without 2022’s top two picks in forward Juraj Slafkovsky (drafted by Montreal) and defenceman Simon Nemec (drafted by New Jersey). Read more about the team’s preparation, including its approach to the Hockey Canada scandal, here.

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