Volunteers are the lifeblood of the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Typically when the holiday hockey tradition comes to Canada, an army of
more than 700 volunteers are recruited to ensure things run smoothly so the
future stars of the game need only to worry about what happens on the ice.
But this is 2020, which means the approach to the 2021 World Juniors has
been anything but “typical.”
Despite welcoming 10 teams – which means 250 players and more than 100 team
staff, plus Hockey Canada and International Ice Hockey Federation staff,
and broadcasters – to Edmonton, there are just 49 volunteers servicing the
“There have definitely been a few challenges through the planning process,
but this is such a strong group,” says Corinne Ethier, who oversees
volunteers for Hockey Canada’s national and international events, including
the World Juniors. “They’re really taking the notion of ‘giving their time’
to the next level.”
Are they ever. Instead of working shifts for a few hours every couple of
days, the dedicated crew in and out of the bubble environment in Edmonton
is going almost around the clock to ensure the success of the tournament.
The volunteers are spread across five groups – concierge (the ‘gofers’ who
handle all out-of-bubble responsibilities), off-ice officials, statistics,
team services and transportation.
Of the 49 volunteers, 20 – comprising transportation, off-ice officials and
team services – are within the bubble, which means they are subject to the
same daily testing regimen as players and staff, and means they had to
endure a four-day quarantine before their duties could begin.
It also means they’ve sacrificed their holiday season to help the
tournament come to fruition, a sacrifice made easier with the current
guidelines in place in Alberta.
“There really isn’t much of a holiday season,” says Ron Matsuba, who
oversees the concierge and transportation groups. “It would have been just
my wife (who is also in the bubble as a volunteer) and I, because the kids
can’t come visit. But it’s a challenge, overcoming everything. It’s a new
challenge, which makes it interesting.”
As with everything else connected to a once-in-a-lifetime World Juniors,
the recruitment of volunteers looked much different. As the COVID-19
pandemic continued its grip on the world through the late summer and a
bubble looked more and more likely, the focus turned from an
open-to-the-public approach to something much more targeted.
“The focus turned to exceptional volunteers who had supported previous
events in Edmonton based on the roles and commitment we knew we needed,”
says Ethier. “That gave us a great starting point, and we were able to fill
in the blanks from there.”
The host committee called on some familiar faces, including Matsuba, who
volunteered at the 2012 World Juniors, 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and 2019
Hockey Canada Foundation Gala & Golf in the Alberta capital, and
secured the services of a few notable names, including Dwayne Mandrusiak,
who spent almost 50 years with the Edmonton Football Team.
That there are fewer volunteers isn’t a huge surprise. With five teams and
most of the event staff staying at the J.W. Marriott, which is connected to
Rogers Place, and all participants living inside the bubble, transportation
needs are at a minimum.
The bubble also means no fans, which eliminates the need for fan-experience
volunteers, as well as most of anything connected to in-game entertainment.
But it’s still an awfully small team to pull off one of the biggest events
on the hockey calendar.
Luckily, the passion Canadians have for a little holiday hockey extends to
the unsung heroes who are making it happen in Edmonton, COVID-19 tests and
long hours be darned. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It is a tradition in our house every Christmas, just to watch it,” says
Matsuba. “But the experience of getting to see the ins and outs of how the
tournament works, getting to see how everything is put together, especially
this year … it’s just such a special event, an important event, and we’re
all proud to be part of it.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at a Hockey Canada event can register at