Canadian women's hockey team conflicted over coronavirus championship cancellation

Blayre Turnbull was 10 years old when she saw the first women's world hockey championship played in her home province.

Players, coaches search for silver lining as focus turns to 2021 tournament

From left to right: Natalie Spooner, Erin Ambrose, Blayre Turnbull, Jocelyne Larocque and Sarah Nurse of Canada celebrate a goal during the 2019 IIHF Women's Ice Hockey World Championships. (Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP via Getty Images)

Blayre Turnbull was 10 years old when she saw the first women's world hockey championship played in her home province.

A chance to follow in those players' footsteps was denied Saturday when the International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled this year's women's championship, scheduled for March 31 to April 10 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., because of the novel coronavirus.

But whenever Turnbull finds herself wishing there had been a delay in pulling the plug in hopes the situation improved, the 26-year-old forward thinks of her grandparents.

"From someone who grew up in Nova Scotia, who watched the women's world championship that were hosted in Nova Scotia in 2004 and who felt the impact of watching those games and knowing what impact we could have had on young girls who wanted to come watch us play this year, and knowing there is a few weeks left before anyone would be arriving in Halifax, that side of me wishes we could have waited," Turnbull said.

Just knowing that Halifax and Truro get to host the world championships next year, adds a lot of motivation to make sure I'm on the roster.- Blayre Turnbull

"But at the same time, I think of the public and think of those who are more susceptible to getting sick. I think about my grandparents and what would happen if they got sick from watching us play hockey in a crowded arena."

Canada announced its roster for the 2020 women's championship Tuesday, three days after the tournament was cancelled. The IIHF scrubbed the 10-country tournament after Hockey Canada informed the world governing body of hockey that Nova Scotia's health authority recommended postponing it.

Turnbull, of Stellarton, was one of two Nova Scotia players selected along with Halifax forward Jill Saulnier. Canada's head coach Troy Ryan is from Spryfield.

The 2003 women's championship in Beijing was also called off because of a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.

But COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on sports both in Canada and around the world in 2020.

The world figure skating championship scheduled to start next week in Montreal was also cancelled Wednesday.

The number of games and tournaments cancelled, postponed, modified or played in front of no spectators is now in the hundreds across multiple sports.

The women's world curling championship scheduled to start Saturday in Prince George, B.C., still has the green light from the World Curling Federation, however.

Hockey Canada released a roster for a tournament that isn't happening to acknowledge the work the women did to be on the team.

Players take solace in future 

The 23 players named to the team Tuesday would have been in Montreal this week for a camp that was also scuttled.

Forwards Victoria Bach of Milton, Ont., and Sarah Fillier of Georgetown, Ont., and Toronto defender Claire Thompson will not be able to make their world championship debuts this year.

"Even knowing we don't get to play games it still feels special to be named to the team," Turnbull said. "I'm glad the rookies who made the team were able to get recognized."

Silver lining

She takes solace in IIHF assurances that her home province will host the women's championship in 2021, even though Russia was scheduled to have it.

"Just knowing the fact that Halifax and Truro get the chance to host world championships for next year, it adds a lot of motivation for me to make sure I'm on the roster for next year again," Turnbull said.

Saulnier was the first Nova Scotian to play for the Canadian women in a world championship in 2015.

Turnbull joined her in 2016. Both were named to the 2018 Olympic team that earned a silver medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Ryan, 48, took over as head coach of the Canadian women in January after three years as an assistant.

He'd been looking forward to standing behind the host country's bench.

"There's a lot of people that are devastated with the virus across the world," Ryan said. "You understand, you respect the decision.

"It's obviously tough news to hear. It would have been magnified if Halifax wasn't awarded it for next year.

"The silver lining is it kind of keeps women's and female hockey at the forefront of hockey in Nova Scotia for another year."


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