Saturday, April 21, 2012

International Hockey Update

It's a busy time of year in the world of hockey beyond the NHL, as there are any number of domestic championships on the line as well as a slate of recent and current international tournaments taking place, several of which will conclude this weekend.

In Russia, the Gagarin Cup Final faces off at 2:00 Moscow Time, which is 6 AM Eastern in the United States and Canada. To date, the series has been incredibly close, with HK Avangard Omsk winning Game 1 by a score of 2-1, UHC Dynamo Moscow turned that score around for a 2-1 win of their own in Game 2. Omsk took Game 3 in Moscow 1-0 and put themselves on the brink of their first Gagarin Cup with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 4. The low scores have been fitting, as both team's strong points have been their defense, with both starting goaltenders posting the second and third best goals against averages during the regular season and neither team having anyone place higher than 21st in scoring.

Update: Their game concluded early this morning in Omsk and Dynamo got out to a 3-0 lead after 5 minutes of the second period and held on for a 3-2 win with the last goal for Omsk not coming until they had pulled their goaltender and there was just 19 seconds remaining in the game. Omsk still leads the series 3-2 with the next game Monday in Moscow.

Germany's DEL championship final has come down to Adler Manheim (Manheim Eagles) and Eisbaren Berlin (Berlin Polar Bears) After Maheim's 2-1 win on Friday, they hold a 2 games to 1 lead in the best-of-five final with Game 4 coming on Sunday.

In the Czech Republic, HC Moeller Pardubice and HC Kometa Brno finished their championship final with Pardubice taking the series 4 games to 2 by winning the final three games, with the last coming on the 19th. It was Pardubice's sixth championship.

HC Pardubice, HC Pardubice

Finland's SM-Liiga is down to the final two clubs, Pelicans Lahti and JYP Jyväskylä. Following JYP's 4-1 win in Game 3, the hold a 2 games to 1 lead after dropping Game 1 2-0 and rebounding with a 6-2 win in Game 2.

Sweden's Elitserien has been decided in favor of Brynäs who downed Skellefteå AIK 4 games to 2. After Brynäs 6-3 win in Game 1, the next four games were decided by a single goal, with Skellefteå winning Game 4 and 5 in overtime before Brynäs closed out the series in Game 6.

Brynäs 2012, Brynäs 2012
Brynäs parades their newly won hardware

The ZSC Lions , coached by Canadian Bob Hartley, took the Swiss National League A championship by outlasting SC Bern in a series that went the full seven games in dramatic fashion with the controversial winning goal coming with just 2 seconds remaining for a 2-1 win in the winner take all contest!

Finally, Slovakia's Extraliga sees HC Slovan Bratislava and HC Košice tied at 3 games apiece in a back and forth series.

In the various IIHF tournaments, the women from Canada won the World Championship after defeating the United States 5-4 in overtime to upset the Americans on home ice after they had previously defeated Canada 9-2 in the group stage. Earlier in late March, the Czech Republic earned promotion back to the Top Division by winning the Division I Group A tournament, narrowly edging Norway by a single point.

Canada Women 2012, Canada Women 2012
The Canadian women celebrating their return to the top of the world

On the men's side, the U18 World Championship concludes tomorrow when Sweden and the United States meet in Brno in the Czech Republic. Sweden advanced to the finals with a 7-3 win over rivals Finland while the US held off Canada 2-1, their second win over the Canadians in the tournament. The two teams will meet for the championship for the third year in a row as the Americans go for their fourth consecutive title, while Sweden's U18 team hopes to complete the double as the U20 team won the World Juniors back in January by defeating Russia 1-0 in overtime.

The senior men's schedule has been a full one, with the Division III gold to be decided today with hosts Turkey in the driver's seat with 12 points from an undefeated record. They will be playing Luxembourg, who enter the game with 9 points and are tied with North Korea, who also have 9 points but hold the edge in goal differential at 14-12. Remember, the IIHF awards 3 points for a win, so a Turkey loss and Korean win would trigger all manner of tiebreakers to decide who earns the promotion to Division II.

Division II Group B went to Belgium, who had a perfect 5-0 record, beating China and hosts Bulgaria easily. The Belgians are thus promoted to Division II Group A, which concluded on Wednesday in Iceland when Estonia defeated Spain 5-3 to win the championship and the desired promotion to Division I Group B.

Belgium 2012, Belgium 2012
Division II Group B winners Belgium

New for 2012, a new ladder system was put into place, and rather than Division I and II being one large Division divided into two groups, with each winner receiving promotion to the Division above them, the respective Group B's are now considered a step below Group A for competitive reasons. The net result is now the teams (in theory) ranked 17-22 will play each other in Group A, while the teams 23-28 are in the same group to narrow the gap between the skill levels of the clubs and eliminate the number of uncompetitive games between teams ranked 17th facing teams ranked down in 28th for example.

Division I Group B will be decided later today with hosts Poland, with 4 wins and 12 points, taking on South Korea, who have 3 wins and an overtime win for 11 points with the winner taking the title and moving up the ladder to Division I Group A.

While the competition in Division I Group A comes to a close today, both hosts Slovenia and Austria have already secured promotion and will meet today for bragging rights. Slovenia is currently 4-0 for 12 points, while Austria is has 3 wins and a shootout loss to Japan for 10 points, far ahead of Hungary, who at 2-2 are sitting on 6 points. Poland, in Division I Group B will be hoping to take the place of either Ukraine, with 1 point and facing Japan, or Great Britan, who have 2 points and face Hungary.

The 2012 World Championships are less than two weeks away and will take place in Sweden and Finland, with the semifinals and finals taking place in Helsinki.

The teams competing will be divided into a new format of two Groups, with Group A consisting of Finland, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Slovakia, Belarus, France and the promoted Kazakhstan, while Group B sees Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Denmark and Italy battling it out for not only the World Championship, but survival at the bottom end of the table.

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