'They've had a tough year': Coach reflects on cancellation of world women's hockey event

CBC

Troy Ryan was looking forward to coaching the Canadian women's hockey team at the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship set for Halifax and Truro beginning March 31.

Ryan, from Spryfield, N.S., only became the head coach two months ago, taking over from Perry Pearn.

With the start of the championship just weeks away, Ryan was aware the outbreak of COVID-19 was a threat to the tournament. The IIHF had already cancelled six tournaments, citing safety in the face of a spreading contagion.

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"We knew in the back of our minds that it was always a possibility," he said Sunday.

Team knew it was a possibility

The decision was made Saturday by the IIHF. Hockey Canada made a formal announcement Saturday afternoon, saying the tournament would be played in Halifax and Truro in 2021 instead.

The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press

"When you hear that news officially that it's been cancelled, it's devastating," he said. "It's very difficult to hear. You automatically reflect on who it is going to affect the most.

"Obviously, you think of the athletes. You also think of all the young girls that would have had an opportunity to watch the world championships live and use if for inspiration. So it was tough news to hear, but we also understand and respect the decision, for sure."

It would have been a homecoming for Ryan. Stellarton's Blayre Turnbull and Halifax's Jillian Saulnier would also have had a chance to skate in front of home crowds.

Players shocked, but understood the decision

Hockey Canada said on Saturday that the players were shocked by the news, but that they also understood the situation.

Hockey Canada had a conference call with all the players, some of whom were in Arizona preparing for the tournament.

This is a second major setback for women's hockey in the last year after the Canadian Women's Hockey League folded last May.

"They've had a tough year, but they are such a resilient bunch that they find ways to put things in perspective," said Ryan. "Some of the conversations I had with some of the athletes … they were disappointed and upset with all the work they had put in this year, but also reflective of the bigger picture.

"There are a ton of families and individuals that are affected by this virus worldwide, so when you kind of put it in perspective like that is a little easier to swallow."

The women's team had to deal with the collapse of the pro league while it was at last year's world championship in Finland. This season's Four Nations Cup tournament in Sweden was cancelled due to a labour dispute, another setback for the players.

Ryan spent the weekend in New Glasgow watching provincial girls' hockey championship tournaments.

"I got the news on my way up so I spent a lot of the day with parents and young athletes that would have attended, so I have a pretty good idea how they were affected by it.

"But I also think they are optimistic and they are aware that the plan is to have the world championship here in 2021, so a lot of them just have to wait a year to get that experience."

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