Speaking Tuesday, on the day that his team would likely have been playing in a semi-final game, U.S. head coach Nate Leaman still sounded disappointed but reasonable - when an unreasonable reaction would be completely reasonable - at the events that led to last week's cancellation of the 2022 World Junior Championship.
It was one of the Leaman's players at Providence, Devils prospect Patrick Moynihan, who won gold with the U.S. last year, which summed up the situation best.
"You spend your entire life hoping to play in the World Junior," remarked Moynihan, letting the comment hang in the air, "…and then it's cancelled."
Moynihan was speaking in specific reference to how badly he felt for his Providence teammate Brett Berard and Leaman, who both returned to defend the title won last year in the Edmonton bubble when the U.S. beat Canada 2-0 in the gold medal final.
Leaman's second stint behind the U.S. bench lasted all of two games, one pre-tournament contest against Finland that the U.S. dropped in OT, and his team's 3-2 win over pesky Slovakia in pool play. The Americans' second pool game against Switzerland was cancelled and recorded as a 1-0 loss when two U.S. players were placed in COVID-19 protocols.
It all became moot a day later when the International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled the tournament amid rising case counts as the Omicron variant surged across North America over the holiday break.
"It was impossible to continue this competition in a fair way," said IIHF president Luc Tardif, in a hastily arranged news conference that confirmed the cancellation.
From a Devils perspective, Leaman had some interesting analysis of Luke Hughes, the club's star defense prospect who was taken fourth overall in last summer's NHL Draft.
"He's long, he's athletic and when he learns how to use all (those physical tools) he's going to be a really good defender," said Leaman. "Offensively, he's not going to be like (brother) Quinn, but he's got plenty of those skills."
Leaman balanced his praise of Hughes with a dose of frank reality, saying that as a young defenseman Hughes needs to understand when it is acceptable to take risks and when to recognize that discretion is the better part of valor.
"Like knowing when to (willingly) go on his backhand, you can't always get away with that," said Leaman. "…but it was a big event, and a lot of guys were trying to make a good impression in a short (period of time)."
Sadly, it was especially short this year. And now with the hockey world having moved on, here are the other Devils connected takeaways from the cancelled tournament:
- Swedish forward Alexander Holtz scored once and added an assist in his country's 6-3 win over Russia (and fellow Devils prospect Shakir Mukhamdullin). He was held scoreless in Sweden's 3-0 win over Slovakia but recorded six shots on net.
- Mukhamdullin skated in both Russian games, the loss to Sweden and a 4-2 win over Switzerland. Mukhamdullin didn't make it on to the scoresheet, but his combined 38 minutes of ice time was among the leaders on the Russian squad.
- Czech goalie Jakub Malek stopped 30 of 36 shots in a 6-3 loss to Canada and was probably the single biggest reason the game didn't get out of hand against the tournament favorites.
Next year's tournament is slated for the Russian Siberian cities of Novosibirsk and Omsk. Of the four Devils prospects who participated in this year's cancelled tournament, only Hughes will remain eligible. Chase Stillman (Canada) and Samu Salminen (Finland), both forwards and both taken with the next Devils picks after Hughes back in July, should be strong candidates to represent their countries.