Saturday, April 17, 2010
While the most important hockey tournament on the planet is underway to determine who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, on the other side of the world, tournament time is in full swing.
The IIHF World Under 18 (U18) Championships began in Belarus on April 13th. This tournament was held in Fargo, North Dakota last year and was won convincingly on home ice by the United States. This weekend will conclude the preliminary rounds and determine who will advance to the playoffs. Finland and Sweden currently lead their groups with perfect 3-0 records.
In the U18 Division 1 Group A tournament, Denmark (4-0) currently leads Norway (3-1) with their deciding game scheduled for Sunday Henning, Denmark.
Meanwhile over in the U18 Division I Group B, Germany (4-0) has the better of Poland (3-1) with the final game of their round robin scheduled for later today in Krynica, Poland.
In the senior ranks for players 20 years or older, the bottom of the IIHF ladder is Division III. This level of play features countries you may not even know had hockey teams. Group A in Luxembourg has Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and The United Arab Emirates playing a round robin schedule which concludes today with Ireland currently atop the standings at 2-0. Greece and Luxembourg are each 1-1 with the deciding games coming later today to determine which country will be promoted to Division II for next year.
Group B finds Mongolia, North Korea, South Africa and Armenia facing off, with Armenia currently on top at 2-0. Play comes to a conclusion on Sunday in this tournament being held in Armenia.
Up in Division II Group A, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico and Turkey are meeting in Mexico City, Mexico for the right for promotion to Division I. Heading into Friday's games, Spain currently holds the top spot over Belgium and Australia.
Division II Group B concluded yesterday with Estonia pummeling Romania 7-1 in their deciding showdown atop the standings, earning Estonia promotion in front of a delighted home crowd to earn the right to compete at the Division I level next season. Other teams in Group B were China, Iceland, Israel and New Zealand, with Israel being relegated to Division III after going winless in five games.
In Division I Group A, Austria, Japan, Lithuania, the host Netherlands, Serbia and Ukraine begin play on Monday, April 19 for the right to play in the Top Division next year in Slovakia. Games are scheduled to run through Sunday, April 25 when favorites Austria and Ukraine close out play.
Division I Group B kicks off today in Ljubljana, Slovenia as Croatia, Great Britain, Hungary, South Korea, Poland and hosts Slovenia meet in round robin play with the winner also promoted to the Top Division in Slovakia in 2011, while the last place team will be relegated down to Division II for 2011.
This year's 2010 IIHF World Championship, for teams in the Top Division, begins in Germany on May 7, 2010 when host Germany takes on the United States in the Veltins Arena, a soccer stadium with a retractable roof, with an anticipated world record crowd of 76,152.
The field for this years World Championships include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Slovakia in Group A, Canada, Italy, Latvia and Switzerland in Group B, the Czech Republic, France, Norway and Sweden in Group C and Denmark and Finland joining Germany and the United States in Group D.
With Division I Group B starting today in Slovenia, today's featured jersey is a Nike 2006 Slovenia National Team Anze Kopitar jersey. This jersey is a Nike Swift jersey, which debuted at the 2006 World Under 20 (U20) Junior Championships on the backs of Canada and the United States before being rolled out in force at the subsequent 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.
Kopitar, the only Slovenian to ever play in the NHL, began his career in the Slovenian junior leagues and led the Slovenian Hockey League in scoring at the age of 16. He moved to Sodertalje of the Swedish Elitserien at the end of the 2004-05 and was then drafted by the Los Angeles Kings after the conclusion of the season. After another full season of development in Sweden in 2005-06, Kopitar became the first Slovenian to ever play in the NHL on October 6, 2006, and celebrated the occasion with a pair of goals.
He finished his first NHL season third in rookie scoring with 20 goals and 61 points in 72 games. In 2007-08, Kopitar led the Kings in scoring with 77 points from 32 goals and 45 assists as well as playing in his first NHL All-Star Game.
After a 66 point campaign in 2008-09, Kopitar set a new career highs during the just concluded 2009-10 season with 34 goals, 47 assists and 81 points, which included the 100th goal of his career on January 28, 2010.
Our video selection today is the anthem for the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B held in Slovenia. We don't know exactly who Slovenian sportcaster Goran Obrez is, but we do wish he'd stop shouting over what isn't a bad rockin' tune.