For Edmonton Oilers 2021 third-round draft pick Luca Munzenberger, the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship must have felt a little like ending a dinner date early because a fire broke in the kitchen just as the couple was starting to hit it off.
Things had started promisingly for the German defenseman and his teammates at World Juniors 2022 in Edmonton before the tournament was abruptly canceled on Wednesday (Dec. 29) due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
The announcement came only a few hours before Team Germany was set to meet Team Canada at Rogers Place in what could have been a coming-out-party for Munzenberger in the rink he hopes to one day call home. All eyes were going to be on that game, and if he kept up his stellar play from Germany’s first two games, Oilers fans would have had eyes only for Munzenberger.
Munzenberger’s Strong Start
With arena capacity cut in half just days before the tournament and attendance in Edmonton furthered hampered by brutally cold temperatures and concerns over the virus. Only a handful of spectators witnessed Germany’s spirited effort in a 3-1 loss to Finland on Sunday (Dec. 26) and stirring upset of Czechia 2-1 in overtime on Monday (Dec. 27).
For those that were watching, Munzenberger was impossible to miss. The 6-foot-3 defenseman scored the lone goal for Germany against Finland and was named his team’s player of the game, then had an assist and was plus-1 in the Czechia victory. Munzenberger led Germany in ice time both games and totaled six shots, the third most on the team.
Lots to Love
While Munzenberger was showing what made the Oilers pick him 90th overall, Germany was poised to become the darlings of the tournament. Everyone loves an underdog, and it was impossible not to get swept up in the German juniors’ unbridled joy when forward Alexander Blank scored in OT against Czechia.
A fun, personable bunch, Team Germany was still making every moment count even after Wednesday’s gut-punching news came down. When they should have been counting down to puck drop against Canada, a video posted to Twitter captured the essence of the German players, taking to the Rogers Place ice in street clothes for pictures, cheering and hugging one another.
Germany wasn’t likely to reach the World Juniors 2022 final, but they planned on being around for the quarterfinals and were booked to stay in Edmonton at least through New Year’s. Instead, the 19-year-old Munzenberger headed back much earlier than expected to the University of Vermont, where he is a freshman on the Catamounts men’s hockey team.
Munzenberger Was an off the Radar Pick
Fellow members of the Oilers’ 2021 draft class Xavier Bourgault (first round) and Matvey Petrov (sixth round) have rightly received a lot of attention, as both rank near the top of the scoring leaders in the Canadian Hockey League while skating for the Shawinigan Cataractes and North Bay Battalion, respectively. But Munzenberger has been mainly out of sight, out of mind playing college hockey on the other side of the continent; he’s not going to put up the headline-grabbing offensive stats of a star forward, nor have the Catamounts been making waves this season, with just three wins thus far.
The only significant attention Munzenberger received in Edmonton was less than positive. Many fans questioned why Oilers general manager Ken Holland such a high pick was used to select the German defenseman when he didn’t rank in the top 200 any major pre-draft list. World Juniors 2022 was the chance for Munzenberger to silence those doubters.
Been Here Before
This was the second highly unusual World Juniors experience for Munzenberger in Edmonton. He was also part of Team Germany at the 2021 championship held at Rogers Place. While that tournament was completed, it was held in a bubble environment, closed off entirely to fans.
Munzenberger may yet get one more abnormal trip to World Juniors: IIHF president Luc Tardif said the tournament could resume in the summer. Otherwise, this is it for the 2002-born blueliner, who will be aged out next year.
But while he will no longer be eligible to participate in one of hockey’s greatest events, a host of other opportunities are on the horizon for Munzenberger. He’s just going to have to wait a bit longer for the chance to win the hearts of Oil Country.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.