For longtime Ottawa 67’s Equipment Manager Chris Hamilton, the abrupt cancellation of December’s 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship was a blindside hit.
Called into a meeting on the morning of December 29, alongside Barber Poles and Team Canada Head Coach Dave Cameron, and General Manager James Boyd, expecting news about updated protocols or rescheduled games, Hamilton was stunned to learn that the remainder of the tournament was being called off entirely, after multiple positive COVID-19 tests amid the rise of the Omicron variant.
“It was strange because there were no whispers, or anything like that.” he said. “We were expecting our next game to be cancelled because [Germany] tested positive or something like that. It was devastating. It caught everyone off-guard.”
While the news was heartbreaking, Hamilton’s line of work left him no time to delay. With the tournament now called to a close, and the virus spreading throughout the participants in Alberta, the announcement kicked off a hectic day in which he had to pack up all the team’s supplies, in order to have everyone headed back home the next morning at 6:00am.
Though it was a bitter end to his second stint with Team Canada at the World Juniors, Hamilton was perhaps comforted by the knowledge that he was returning to Ottawa to rejoin the upstart 67’s. The man who has come to be known as “Hammy” around The Arena at TD Place has become as much of an institution as the sacred Barber Pole jerseys, having been with the club since 2009, and becoming Head Equipment Manager in 2012.
While the homecoming was sweet, as the young 67’s squad geared up for the playoff hunt, it didn’t take long for rumours of restarting the ill-fated tournament to begin circulating their way to the nation’s capital.
“It honestly started right away, we heard people talking about it right after the meeting, while we were waiting for the bus to take us back to the hotel,” said Hamilton. “Throughout the spring, there was rumours and rumblings, and then I got the call from James in early May to tell me I was going again.”
The revamped World Juniors are set to begin today, August 9, and it will look different than anything previously seen in the tournament’s history. It will take place in the summer, just four months in advance of the regularly scheduled edition in December.
Rescheduling the tournament not only provides a chance at redemption for the players, but so too for Hamilton. Though it’s now his third time going to the World Juniors, the first was played within the empty arenas and strict protocols of the 2020-2021 COVID bubble, and the second only lasted a pair of games.
“This one’s going be different than the previous two that I’ve done. The first one, it was the only thing going on, and I think everyone was just kind of excited to be playing hockey again,” Hamilton said. “But I remember the first game on Boxing Day, last year, walking out and you see the kids with the signs and all that, and then that kind of hit home.”
An added benefit of the tournament’s new date, Hamilton says, is also that he’ll finally get to experience the atmosphere of the city he’s in. With the previous World Juniors’ stricter protocols confining him to either the hotel or the rink, he looks forward to being able to enjoy the visit to Edmonton, and soaking up the electric atmosphere the tournament always creates.
That is, of course, when he isn’t wrapped up in Team Canada’s jam-packed schedule, and doing every thing he and the rest of the staff can to make it an easy experience for the players.
“We really try to make it ‘pro’, so that the players are taken care of, and they don’t have to worry about anything. I know it’s cliché to say, but I approach it the same way as I do in Ottawa.”
Though familiar with the rigorous demands of the Equipment Manager role, Hamilton admits that being around familiar faces helps. Joining him, Cameron, and Boyd is also 67’s and Ottawa REDBLACKS Strength and Conditioning Coach Sean Young, who serves as a constant source of not only expertise, but of smiles and energy.
It should come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with the Barber Poles, but the Team Canada experience doesn’t change anyone.
“Dave still chirps me, and gives me a hard time every day,” laughed Hamilton.
Perhaps the coolest aspect of the tournament for Hamilton, though, is looking out at the playing surface, and seeing members of the 67’s. He has worked with Barber Poles forwards Jack Quinn, and Graeme Clarke, as well as seen them go head-to-head with Austria’s Marco Rossi, and will get a similar experience with current 67’s forward Vinzenz Rohrer, this time around.
Or it could be using his experience as a former goaltender to give Canada’s netminders some helpful “advice”.
“It’s tough, though,” he chuckled “Sebastian Cossa’s like 6’7. He’s literally a foot taller than me, so my goalie tips may not apply to him.”
The full 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship schedule can be found here.