Over winter break, Red Savage, a first-year forward on Miami University's hockey team, was supposed to get the opportunity of a lifetime. Savage was named to the United States under-20 national team that would be competing at the 2022 World Junior Championship, one of the biggest events on the hockey calendar every year.
Savage made the team after attending a summer selection camp with 40 of America’s best young hockey players. By December, the roster had been whittled down to 30, and two days into a December selection camp the final cuts were made. When the dust settled, Savage was lined up to be a big contributor for the team.
The Americans showed up in Edmonton for the tournament just after Christmas and beat Slovakia 3-2 on the first day of competition. A day later they lost 1-0 to Switzerland. Then, something all too familiar happened.
Later that night, a couple of the U.S. players texted the team group chat that they had tested positive for COVID-19 and had to enter quarantine.
“We basically just thought that they’d be done and that we’d be able to play on, '' Savage said. “But the next morning we heard that our game got canceled. We were still optimistic that we’d be able to play, but as the day went on things started to go downhill pretty quick. Later that night they brought us all on a big emergency zoom call and told us that [the tournament] was canceled.”
In a world where people are tired of COVID-19 robbing them of things, this cancellation really stung. Most players only ever get to play in one World Juniors tournament, and the U.S. had plenty of players on the team who are scheduled to age out.
“There was a big wave of shock,” Savage said. “It was like dead silent for the next hour because no one knew what to do … we just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible because no one wanted to get stuck with a positive test and have to stay in Canada for an extra two weeks.”
Savage was able to hang with his teammates — some of whom he’s played with for nearly a decade — one last time before getting out of dodge.
“We all left our rooms and got to be together for those last few hours before we left the next day,” he said.
There’s hope that Savage and his teammates may get another shot though. International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Luc Tardif has said he hopes to finish the tournament this summer in Canada.
Red smiled wide when I brought up the possibility.
“That’d be the best case scenario,” Savage said of a summer tournament. “Especially for the older guys. They don’t have the chance to play again in the World Juniors, and it just breaks your heart.”
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Since getting back from his stint with the U.S. under-20 team, Savage has been on fire for Miami. He has three goals and six assists in eleven games, and he’s looked much more comfortable on the ice.
“It’s all about confidence,” Savage said. “It’s pretty easy to come off that tournament and come back here and play with confidence. Making that team and playing in that tournament just shows you that you can play with pretty much any team and any player out there.”
Savage has changed his game since coming back.
“I’m just wanting to attack more,” Savage said. “At some points at the beginning of the season I was a little bit scared to make plays, to do things myself. Recently I’ve just been trying to capitalize on opportunities I get. I think I missed out on some of those opportunities earlier in the year.”
The RedHawks take the ice this weekend vs. Omaha at home. On Friday puck drops at 7 p.m., and Saturday’s game starts at 7:05 p.m.