Team USA was in their final preparations for the 2021 World Championships. They were less than a day away from boarding a bus for the 500-mile drive from their camp in Portland, Maine to Halifax, Nova Scotia for their first tournament in two years.
Then it all came crashing down, again. For the second year in a row, the IIHF World Championships were cancelled due to COVID.
“It was just like really, this is happening again,” said veteran defender Kacey Bellamy in an interview with The Ice Garden.
Just getting to that point had been a long journey. The players isolated at their homes, then tested 48 hours before traveling to Maine, on arrival to camp, and every other day in camp. Team USA had to cancel at least two other camps through the year already.
“We were ready to go. That was kind of the first time we actually solidified a team over the past year, so I think it was just more exciting to build our chemistry and camaraderie throughout the week in preparation to head to Halifax,” Bellamy said.
The team was scrimmaging around 1 p.m., and Bellamy said she noticed their coach, Joel Johnson, kept leaving the bench but didn’t think much of it. When they finished the game, there was no typical postgame shootout, and the Team USA staff was on the bench. Being the end of the week-long camp, she thought it was a thank you moment for the staff and extra players who helped the team in Maine.
But then their general manager and Johnson stepped on the ice. Bellamy described them both as choked up. She remembers thinking that maybe someone had tested positive and they would have to wait to leave.
“Our general manager says, ‘You’ve had to face so much adversity and I’m sorry to tell you have to face another challenge here. We just got off the call with the IIHF. The World Championships have been cancelled.’ As soon as she said it, I just had tears coming down my face. My teammates had tears. It was just a complete shock.
“We were so physically ready to go, but then it turns into you’re just mentally so done with it. We sat on the ice for 20 minutes hugging each other. Just saying, ‘This is really happening.’ It was just a moment for our team that was really tough to go through.”
The cancellation came just 15 days before the tournament was set to begin, and the day before the teams were set to arrive for their pre-tournament quarantine and testing period. Cases in the Canadian province were on the rise, and the government made the decision in the interest of the safety of everyone, from the players to the community at large. The IIHF and Hockey Canada said they will work to find new summer dates, but no details nor plans have been announced.
Faced with significant questioning as to why they did not have any concrete back up plans, the IIHF president said organizers had “no reason to believe” the tournament would not happen.
That was on April 23, just more than a week ago.
Bellamy said the fact that it’s been so long without answers is unacceptable and disappointing.
“I think women hockey players, we’re always trying to be politically correct. We don’t try to be negative because then we’re kind of getting judged like we’re complaining and we should just accept and be grateful for everything that we have. The reality is we haven’t played a game in over 700 days,” she said.
Meanwhile, the IIHF found ways to play two men’s tournaments. The 2020 men’s World Junior (U20) took place in a bubble in December and January, and the IIHF is currently hosting the men’s U18 tournament is Texas.
Both tournaments were modified due to COVID from their original plans, which many said should have happened for the women’s event.
“That would be the smart thing. If they cared, we piggyback off of one of the men’s Worlds,” said Bellamy. “Mentally, it’s tough, to be honest. We’ve been here for a week, just sitting here and not knowing. The motivation is pretty low, and I would probably say that for a lot of the girls.”
Of all the years for a possible summer World Championship, this would be the least favorable. This is typically their off-season, and while that break is important in any year, it’s especially so as women’s hockey looks ahead to the 2022 Olympics in February.
“It would be a grind,” Bellamy said. “We look at these summer months as our rest and recovery, especially going into the Olympic year.”
“It’s so tough to get something canceled. Now we take a week off, and then you have to get back into training. It’s so much fluctuation, knowing what phase you’re going to be in your training. Not a lot of people see that, and it’s harder than you think as an athlete, no matter what sport you’re playing. It’s one of the most important components, that off-ice training.”
On a personal level, Bellamy described her last year of hockey as a struggle. The Massachusetts-born defender moved to Calgary in 2018, where she plays for the PWHPA’s team.
Bellamy said she missed the full team practices in early fall 2020 because of some paperwork issues and then her quarantine period when she returned to Canada. Team Canada and fellow Calgary PWHPA defender Brigette Laquette was able to secure some ice time on her reservation that Bellamy attended, but it was all small group skills work. When Laquette, who is Indigenous, and the other Canadian National Team members left for their camps, however, it left Bellamy on her own to find ice time.
“It was just a battle all year,” she said.
Due to tight restrictions, thus far Calgary (and the two other Canadian teams) have yet to play a game in 2020-21 season. For Bellamy, the last time she played a competitive game of hockey was the PWHPA’s Philadelphia Dream Gap Tour on March 1, 2020.
“That was my last legitimate game, and that’s really tough to think about,” she said. “Ever since I’ve laced up my skates when I was five years old, I’ve never gone this long without a competitive game.”