Saturday, April 23, 2011
While the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia doesn't begin until Friday, April 29th, there is plenty of international hockey action taking place this weekend.
First is the conclusion of the 2011 IIHF World Women's Championship in Switzerland. Canada and the United States both went undefeated in the Preliminary Round and received a bye into the Semifinals. Friday's games saw Finland easily defeat their Nordic rivals Sweden 5-1 to advance to face Canada, and Russia came from behind 3-0 in the third period to defeat Switzerland 5-4 in overtime for the right to face the Americans today.
After a day off on Sunday, the losing teams in today's games will meet for the bronze medal in Monday's early game with the winners meeting to determine the champion in Monday's late game. Anything other than the defending champion United States versus Canada would be a surprise considering the two countries dominate the women's game, having divided all 12 previous titles, nine for Canada and three for the US, including the last two.
On the men's side, the 2011 World Championship Division 1 Groups A and B tournaments also come to a conclusion this weekend. Division 1 is held in a single round robin format, with all teams playing each other once, with the champions simply being the teams that finish with the most points atop their group standings, while the club finishing last in each group is relegated to Division 2 for 2012.
Division 1 Group A is being held in Budapest, Hungary and features hosts Hungary along with Spain, Italy, South Korea and the Netherlands.
Heading into the final two games today, Hungary and Italy are tied at 9 points each and are scheduled to play each other today to determine which team will not only with this year's gold medal, but be awarded promotion to the Top Division to play with the big dogs at next year's World Championships in Stockholm and Helsinki.
Korea and the Netherlands both have 3 points. While the Netherlands have completed their schedule of games, Spain, with no points, has one final chance to avoid relegation when they take on Korea in today's first game.
Sadly, Japan was forced to withdraw from this year's competition due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that mainly affected the northern part of Japan where the hockey community is mainly located. The IIHF revised the schedule to accommodate five teams, rather than the anticipated six. Additionally, Japan will retain their place in Division 1 for next season, with the club finishing last among those competing being the one relegated.
Also wrapping up their tournament is Division 1 Group B, which is taking place in Kiev where hosts Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Poland, Great Britain, Lithuania and Estonia are competing.
Heading into the final day, Kazakhstan leads with a perfect 4-0 record for 12 points. They will face hosts Ukraine, who are tied for second with Great Britain with 9 points. The British are scheduled to face Poland, who enters the final day with a 2-2 record and 6 points.
If Ukraine wins in regulation in front of their home fans and Great Britain wins as anticipated, there will be three way tie at the top of the table with all games completed, bringing the tie breaker of goal differential from games between the three tied teams into effect to determine the champion, with Ukraine needing to win by 3 goals to have a chance. Kazakhstan simply needs to reach overtime, win or lose, to claim the title and return to the Top Division.
Also currently taking place are the 2011 World Under-18 Championships in Germany. This tournament is one of the most important in the eyes of NHL teams, as these are the players they will be drafting this June in the 2011 NHL Amateur Draft. As much as the Under 20 Championships between Christmas and New Year's each year gets all the media attention, nearly every one of those players has already been drafted by NHL clubs, making the U18 tournament a vital one in the eyes of the scouts.
The Preliminary Round was completed on April 19th with the United States winning Group A over Russia and Germany. Sweden won Group B over Canada and Finland while Switzerland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Norway were sent to the Relegation Round.
Russia defeated Finland 5-2 in their Quarterfinal to advance to face Sweden today in the first game, while Canada set up a meeting with the United States with their 4-3 win over the Germans.
Following today's games, the losers will meet for the bronze medal on Sunday with the winners advancing to the gold medal game later the same day in front of a large group of scouts from each and every NHL organization looking for the next group of future professionals.
For more information and to follow the action today, please visit IIHF.com.
Today's featured jersey is a 2001 Italy National Team Marco De Toni jersey. Italy plays today for the gold medal in Division 1 Group A and promotion to the Top Division for next year.
This jersey was worn during the 2001 World Championships where Italy finished in 12th place, protecting their spot in the Top Division. They would finish 15th the following season which resulted in relegation to Division 1 after an 11 year stay in the top flight.
Today's video is an advance look at the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division 1 Group A in Budapest, Hungary, and is a remarkably well done and funny video.