Back in the 1980's when young hockey players were sent to international tournaments in hopes of catching the attention of a NHL scout or general manager, parents and team personnel only worried about a young player being healthy. And safe. And it seemed like a given - the international event was the perfect occasion for them to move up in the hockey world and be successful.
But nowadays, there are other elements that need to be looked at seriously, in what we can say most of us never saw coming... On last night's Insider Trading on TSN, Bob McKenzie revealed that there is a major issue Under-18 World Championship coming up in April, one that matters for players and NHL team staff in a very serious way. Life or death, you know what we mean.
When asked why are some NHL teams not interested in this year’s U18’s in Russia, McKenzie revealed that five teams are not planning on going due to serious health concerns. Here is his explanation:
"There are five teams that are not planning to send scouts to Magnitogorsk, with one of those five teams happening to be the Calgary Flames. The reason for teams not going is environmental and health concerns. Magnitogorsk is a very polluted area. In the past, radiation levels have been high, and there’s been a lot of toxicity in terms of the water and air quality. While USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and the IIHF feel assured that it’s safe to go to Magnitogorsk, some NHL teams are backing off and are not sending anyone at all, or are sending a much scaled down scouting staff. This is something to definitely keep an eye on between now and when the tournament starts in April."
We are no joking. A report came out back in September 2017 that a radiation cloud was detected over Europe with officials from Germany and France concluding that Russia was a potential source of the contamination. After some investigation, some suspect that the origin of the dangerous cloud is the Mayak nuclear plant, which 60 years ago was the location of a major nuclear accident. In late November, Russia confirmed radiation spikes near the Ural Mountains in the Chelyabinsk region where the tournament is scheduled to take place, but has pointed to high radiation levels over Romania, Italy and Ukraine.
“The Russian state weather service Roshydromet said it found what the Russian news media described as 'extremely high pollution' at two monitoring facilities within a 62-mile radius of the Mayak nuclear reprocessing and isotope production plant,” according to the New York Times.
The NHL notified teams of the radiation levels in Chelyabinsk in late November, and now amongst them, the Flames are putting their foot down and refusing to go. Last month, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement to The Athletic on the situation in Chelyabinsk saying: “We have investigated the situation and are currently satisfied — based on the reports of numerous independent environmental agencies outside of Russia — that there is no health risk whatsoever associated with attendance and presence in the Chelyabinsk area. Obviously, we will continue to monitor the situation and, in the event that were to change, we would immediately advise our clubs accordingly.”
“I hope everyone is worried about this,” said one NHL assistant GM added to The Athletic.
We sure are, and hopefully, players, scouts and parents attending will be informed and protected from whatever the radiation cloud might cause down the line.