Saturday, May 7, 2011
The 2011 IIHF World Championships continue today in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia. Highlights of the Preliminary Round were the performances of Germany and Norway.
In Group A, Germany shocked everyone with their tournament opening shutout of Russia 2-0. They then took care of hosts Slovakia 4-3 and outlasted plucky Slovenia 3-2 in a shootout to earn 8 of a possible 9 points to win their group for the first time in their history. Also advancing to the Qualifying Round were Russia, who rebounded by defeating Slovakia and Slovenia, and Slovakia, whose opening day 3-1 win over Slovenia proved to all the points they would need.
Group B saw Canada take care of business with regulation wins over Belarus and France before requiring overtime to down Switzerland, who also defeated France, in overtime, and Belarus before gaining a point against Canada to also advance. The surprise of the group was 15th ranked France's overtime win over #10 Belarus 2-1 to avoid the Relegation Round and move on to the Qualifying Round.
In Group C, Sweden's easy win over the United States gave them the top spot in Group C with just 7 points, the lowest total by a group winner. The USA's two wins over Norway and Austria put them through as well. Norway gained the final place thanks to their first ever win over Sweden in a shootout, and an easy 5-0 win over Austria, who were badly outplayed in the first round, scoring just one goal while giving up 13, by far the worst goal differential of all.
The only team to go undefeated in regulation play and earn the maximum nine points was Group D winning Czech Republic. Finland started strong with a three point win over Denmark, but needed a shootout to get past Latvia before losing to the Czechs in a subpar round for the Finns. The most dramatic game of Group D was the final game with a Qualifying Round spot on the line when Denmark surprised with a shootout win over Latvia.
While Qualifying Round play continues today, the most tense games will be the two Relegation Round games between Slovenia and Belarus in addition to Latvia taking on Austria.
Belarus and Slovenia looked to be on their way to safety when Belarus dominated the Austrians 7-2 and #19 Slovenia pounded #12 Latvia 5-2. But then a funny thing happened and Austria, who had now been outscored 20-3, got up off the mat and defeated Slovenia 3-2 in regulation before the Latvians delighted their raucous fans by easily winning 6-3 over Belarus.
Those two unexpected results left everyone in the group tied with three points. Today's mission is simply win and you're safe, even a win that requires additional time will suffice to protect your place in next year's World Championships in Finland and Sweden.
Slovenia takes on the higher ranked Belarus at the same time Latvia squares off against a desperate Austria with today's losers dropping down to Division 1 for 2012.
Action also continues today with a pair of games, one each in Group E and Group F, to determine the pairings for the quarterfinals which begin on Wednesday. In Group E, Russia takes on the still undefeated Czechs. Four of the six teams in each group advance to the playoffs, with the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and Russia all set to advance, with only the final order still at stake.
Group F has Sweden taking on Switzerland today. Sweden will be looking to tie Canada on top of the group while the Swiss need as many points as possible in their effort to supplant Norway as the final team to advance, as Norway finishes their schedule on Monday against winless France while Switzerland faces a stronger team in the United States.
While only Canada is a lock to advance, Sweden and the United States seem safe, and will officially become so if Switzerland loses in regulation today. Norway comes next with 5 points, two ahead of the Swiss at 3, who still have today's game in hand. France will not advance past this round based on their single point in four games.
The quarterfinal pairings will be determined after Monday's six games which involve all the remaining teams. After a day off on Tuesday, the top four finishers in each group will be paired in a crossover with the teams in the opposite group, with the first place teams facing the fourth place team from the other group, while the second place finishers take on the third place team from the other group.
Update: Scores from today show the Czech Republic staying perfect with their 3-2 win over Russia. The Czechs have now locked up the top spot in Group E and will play the fourth place team in Group F, likely Norway or possibly the United States.
In Group F, Sweden defeated Switzerland 2-0, locking in quarterfinal berths for both Sweden as well as the United States. Switzerland must now win on Monday to have a chance to advance to the quarterfinals, as they have 3 points with Norway at 5. Norway has a relatively easy matchup with France on Monday, and even a single point for reaching overtime would put them through, as they hold the tiebreaker over Switzerland thanks to their earlier 3-2 win over the Swiss last Thursday.
The only way Switzerland can advance is by winning in regulation combined with a French win in regulation over Norway.
In the Relegation Round, there was not much drama as Belarus dominated Slovenia 7-1, sending Slovenia down to Division 1 for next season.
Andrei Kostitsyn celebrates his goal today for Belarus
In the other game, Latvia cruised to a 4-1 win over demoted Austria. Those two relegated squads will be replaced by Italy and Kazakhstan for the 2012 World Championships in Finland and Sweden.
Roberts Bukarts scores for Latvia