Friday, May 4, 2012

The 2012 World Championships Preview

The 2012 World Championships begin today in Finland and Sweden, the first time the hosting of the World Championships has been divided between more than one nation since 1930 when it was shared by Germany, Austria and France.

2012 World Championships logo, 2012 World Championships logo

This year's tournament sees the debut of an entirely new format, as instead of the previous four groups of four teams with the top three in each advancing to a second group stage, the new format sees two large groups of eight teams each, one based entirely in Helsinki and the other in Stockholm.

Another change is that once the Preliminary Round is completed, the top four teams in each group will advance to the Semifinals, to be played within your group, guaranteeing rematches of Preliminary Round matchups.

Not until the Semifinals will teams finally cross over to play squads from the opposite group once all the surviving teams have congregated in Helsinki at the Hartwall Arena for the remainder of the championship.

Hartwall Arena, Hartwall Arena
Helsinki's Hartwall Arena

Another big difference in the tournament comes with the abandonment of the Relegation Round, as the two last place teams in each group will be relegated, to be replaced by Division I Group A winners Slovenia and runners up Austria for 2013.

Personally, we are not fans of this change, as the Relegation Round was always of a certain interest to us, with the battle for survival having the spotlight all it's own for a day, usually in between the Semifinals and Medal Round games. As it stands now, the games which will be critical to the lower seeded teams survival will now be deeply embedded in the Preliminary Round on some random date, held opposite other higher profile matches featuring championship contenders. This chance will take away any drama the Relegation Round once generated, as the vital games which determined who is sent down will now not be apparent until the Preliminary Round is concluded and the previous results are examined after the fact.

The two groups this year are named Group H for Helsinki, and Group S for Stockholm. Group H features the hosts Finland (ranked #2 in the IIHF World Ranking), Canada (#4), the United States (#6), Switzerland (#7), Slovakia (#10), Belarus (#11), France (#14) and Kazakhstan (#16), while Group S has Russia (#1), Sweden (#3), the Czech Republic (#5), Germany (#8), Norway (#9), Latvia (#12), Denmark (#13) and Italy (#17).

Once the Preliminary Round concludes on May 15th, the Quarterfinals will happen two days later on May 17th, followed by the a travel/rest day and the Semifinals on May 19th and the Bronze and Gold Medal games the following day, Sunday, May 20th.

13 games of the World Championship can be seen in the United States on the NBC Sports Network , as they will show all seven Team USA preliminary games, all four Quarterfinals, a Semifinal and the Gold Medal game.

NBC Sports Logo, NBC Sports Logo

Vital games for the United States will be on May 5th vs. Canada, May 13th vs. Finland and their final Preliminary Round game against Switzerland on May 15th, yet they must avoid dropping any critical points to France, Slovakia, Belarus and Kazakhstan by either losing or even being taken to overtime.

Key players for the United States include defenseman Jack Johnson, Cam Fowler, Alex Goligoski and Justin Faulk, forwards Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty as well as goaltender Jimmy Howard.

In Canada, 21 games will be on TSN and in French on RDS. Vital games for Canada will occur on May 5th against the United States and May 11th against Finland.

TSN Logo, TSN Logo

The Canadian lineup features forwards Evander Kane, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Alex Burrows, Jeff Skinner, Patrick Sharp and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a back line of Duncan Keith, Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester and Luke Schenn playing in front of goalkeeper Cam Ward.

Other notable NHLers include Czechs Milan Nichalek, Tomas Plekanec, David Krejci, and Ales Hemsky as well as veteran Petr Nedved, Denmark's Jannik Hansen, Frans Nielsen and Lars Eller, Finns Mikko Koivu, Kari Lehtonen, Jussi Jokinen, Valtteri Filppula and Minnesota Wild prospect Mikael Granlund, Germany's Marcel Goc, Russians Semyon Varlamov, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk, Switzerland's Mark Streit and Nino Niederreiter, Slovakia's Zdeno Chara, Tomas Kopecky, and veteran Miroslav Satan, Sweden's Jhonas Entroth, Niklas Kronwall, Loui Eriksson, Viktor Stalberg, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jonathan Ericsson, Victor Hedman, Gabriel Landeskog, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg as well as a number of familiar names now playing in Russia's KHL.

This will be the seventh time Finland has hosted the World Championship, with the first coming in 1965 in Tampere. They hosted again in 1974 and 1982, all three won by the powerful Soviet Union. 1991 saw Nordic rivals Sweden take the title followed by Canada in 1997 and 2003. The Finns will be looking to become the first host to win gold in an amazing 25 years, the last coming back in 1986 in Moscow. Finland has twice won the World Championship, first in a memorable 4-1 win over Sweden in Stockholm, and again just last year in Slovakia, which sends them into this year's tournament as not only hosts, but defending champions.

2011 Finland World Champions, 2011 Finland World Champions
2011 World Champions Finland

In addition to the TV coverage, fans can also take the World Championships with them via the 2012 IIHF World Championships App for the iPhone by following this link and the Android version here. Also be sure to visit the IIHF's official channel on You Tube, their Facebook page as well as their twitter feed to stay on top of the action!

Today's featured jersey is a 1995 Finland National Team Janne Ojanen jersey. This is the same style jersey used in the 1994 Olympic games, and while branded as a Reebok jersey, they were produced by Tackla using the same mesh fabric and dye sublimation process. Visually, the only difference between the Olympic jerseys and the World Championship versions are the additions of the sponsorship patches to each arm.

The script could hardly have gone any better for Finland in 1995, as they defeated arch rivals Sweden in Sweden to claim their first World Championship.

Finland has a long history in the World Championships and Olympics, first appearing in 1939 and being regular participants since 1949, but did not earn their first medal until 1988 with a 2-1 win over the Soviet Union at the Olympics in Canada, a span of nearly 40 years. Their first World Championship success would come in 1992 with a silver medal in Czechoslovakia.

In 1995, the Finns were led by a line known as "Tupu, Hupu and Lupu", Finnish for Huey, Dewey and Louie, the nephews of Disney cartoon character Donald Duck.

Tupu,Hupu and Lupu

Jere Lehtinen (Lupu), made his international debut at age 19 in the 1992 World Championships, Saku Koivu (Tupu) arrived in 1993, at age 19, in the World Championships and Ville Peltonen (Hupu) completed the line when they all played together in Pelotnen's international debut at the 1994 Olympics at age 20.

While Finland's past history was barren of medals and championships, "Tupu, Hupu and Lupu" entered the 1995 World Championships with Lehtonen (two silvers and a bronze in three years of international experience), Koivu (a silver and a bronze in two years) and Peltonen (a silver and a bronze after one year) as winners with high expectations.

They finished group play with a 3-1-1 record and easily advanced in the quarterfinals with a 5-0 win over France and got revenge for their only loss of the tournament against the Czech Republic in the form of another 3-0 shutout, only this time in favor of Finland, setting up the gold medal final against hosts Sweden.

Peltonen was the star of the show, scoring the first three goals of the game for a natural hat trick before assisting on the fourth Finnish goal to lead them to an eventual 4-1 win.

1995 Finland World Championships
1995 Finland World Championships

Here are the highlights from the 1995 World Championship gold medal final between victorious Finland and Sweden.

Here are scenes of the massive celebration on their return home to Finland, as they continue to adopt "Den Glider In" as their own. Don't miss the guy playing air guitar with the then World Championship trophy!

These scenes are proof that while the NHL might not take the World Championships nearly as seriously as they do the Olympics, it clearly still matters to Europeans.

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