Friday, May 9, 2014

2014 IIHF World Championships

The 2014 IIHF World Championship begins today in Minsk, Belarus.

2014 IIHF Worlds Logo photo 2014IIHFWorldsLogo.jpg

The 16 teams are divided into two groups, with Group A consisting of Sweden, the Czech Republic, Canada, Slovakia, Norway, Denmark, France and Italy, with all games being played at the 9,600 capacity Chizhovka Arena in the southeast of Minsk.

2014 IIHF Worlds Mascot photo Volat.jpg

Group B sees Finland, Russia, the United States, Switzerland, Germany, Latvia, host Belarus and Kazakhstan playing their games are the larger Minsk Arena, which opened in 2010, has a capacity of 15,086 and his home to the KHL club HC Dinamo Minsk. Minsk Arena is in the northwest side of central Minsk, just 22 minutes from Chizhovka Arena, which will allow fans the opportunity to see games at either venue, a chance from the last two years which saw games split between Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden.

This will be the first time the World Championships have been held in Belarus and the format of the tournament calls for each team to play the other seven teams in it's group in the Preliminary Round, which extends from today, May 9th through May 20th. The last place teams in each group will be relegated to Division I Group A for the 2015 season.

The top 4 teams in each group will advance to the Quarterfinals on May 22nd with the winners meeting in the Semifinals on May 24th. The losers of those games will meet the next day on May 25th for the bronze medal while the winners will face off for the IIHF World Championship later the same day.

World Championship trophy photo WorldChampionshiptrophy.jpg

For fans in Canada, TSN will show all the Canadian and American preliminary round games as well as each of the eight playoff games. Viewers in the US can watch all of the American games and all eight playoff games on the NBC Sports Network. With the time difference between North America and Belarus, games will air live between mid morning and early afternoon eastern time.

The Belarus National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 15th in the IIHF World Rankings and played their first international game in November of 1992 after gaining their independence from the Soviet Union.

The Belarusians have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey three times since 1994. Their best result was a stunning fourth place in 2002 in Salt Lake City after winning their preliminary group, which consisted of Ukraine, Switzerland and France. After placing last in the final round by going winless against the United States, Finland and Russia, Belarus shocked the world by defeating the heavily favored Sweden, winners of Group A, in the Quarterfinals of the Medal Round by a score of 4-3 after Vladimir Kopat famously scored from center ice on a shot that deflected off of Swedish goaltender Tommy Salo's head in what has been called one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.

Belarus Celebrates photo Belaruscelebrates.jpg
Belarus celebrates their shocking win over Sweden

Their other two appearances resulted in a 7th place in 1998 in Japan and a 9th place in 2020 in Vancouver.

Since gaining their independence, Belarus have been regular participants in the World Championships, first being assigned to Pool C as a new country, the lowest rung of the ladder system. After finishing second in 1994, they earned promotion to Pool B by winning Pool C in 1995. After a third place finish in 1996, they won Pool B in 1997, completing a rise to the Top Division in just four years.

Since rising to the Top Division for 1998, Belarus has only been relegated twice, with both of those being due to a rule which allowed one team from the Far East to remain as a representative from that area of the world despite Japan finishing dead last both times, costing Belarus the right to stay in the Top Division. Each time Belarus were demoted, they earned immediate promotion at the first opportunity by winning their group in Division 1. To date, Belarus' best finish in the World Championships has been a sixth place in 2006, ahead of the United States, Slovakia and Switzerland that year.

Belarus has been flirting with disaster of late, with three consecutive 14th place finishes, one spot above relegation. If they are to avoid relegation again as the host nation, the key game in their efforts will be their second game on May 11th against Kazakhstan, the only team ranked lower in 16th place. Other key games for the Belarussians will be feeding off the energy of the home supporters on May 18th vs. Germany and May 19th against Latvia.

While Belarus has slipped in the World Rankings from a high of 8th as recently as 2009 to their current 15th, they have had a history of sending players to the NHL, including Mikhail Grabovski of Washington, brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, the late Ruslan SaleiVladimir Tsyplakov and Konstantin Koltsov.

Salei Belarus photo SaleiBelarus.png
Ruslan Salei

Today's featured jersey is a 2002 Belarus National Team Vladimir Tsyplakov jersey as worn during their famous upset over Sweden at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Tsyplakov was originally drafted 59th overall by the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL and played for the Kings in five seasons and parts of two more seasons with the Buffalo Sabres before returning to Russia, where he played an additional four years before retiring.

His final NHL totals were 331 games, 69 goals and 101 assists for 170 points.

Belarus 2002 jersey photo Belarus2002F.jpg
Belarus 2002 jersey photo Belarus2002B.jpg

Here are the final few minutes of Belarus' shocking upset victory against Sweden in the 2002 Olympics.

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