France, Latvia and Austria in danger
Austria is currently leading the trio in danger with five points but also has the most difficult game ahead at 12:15 against Canada, the only undefeated team so far at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
The Eagles will need one point by the mean of a tied game after regulation time to maintain in the top division without having to rely on others.
That’s not a promising sign considering the record of 14 losses in 15 games in Olympic and World Championship history. Only once was the result different and coincidentally this was in the preliminary round in Prague in 2004 when the Austrians earned a 2-2 tie against the later World Champion. Andre Lakos and Thomas Vanek gave Austria a first-period lead while Reinhard Divis saved all shots until Canada came back with two goals in the last ten minutes of play.
However, the last encounter, a 6-0 blanking in Sochi 2014, is a less encouraging memory for the team.
If Austria loses in regulation time, they will need to hope for a Latvian win against France in or after regulation time or for a French win in regulation time in the 16:15 game. If France beats Latvia in overtime or shootout, this would create a three-team tie between the three teams with five points each and Austria at the bottom end due to the worst head-to-head record since Austria lost to both teams.
While Austria has been relegated in each of the last five previous top-division participations (2005 on home ice in Vienna, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013), relegation would be an even bigger shocker for the other two teams involved in the battle to avoid last place in the group.Continue reading
Latvia has been in the top division ever since regaining independence and making its way up to the top division for the 1997 World Championship. The Baltic nation has also qualified for every Olympics since Salt Lake City 2002. (The country also had five top-level participations from 1933-1939 before World War II.)
Arguably one of the hockey-craziest countries per capita, the Latvians have been known for their huge fan support with thousands of Latvians travelling to the World Championship every year. Latvia being relegated would be more of a shock for the organizers of the World Championship in Russia next year than for next season’s Division I Group A host – the only applicant is Krakow, Poland.
Relegation would also bring France into an uncomfortable situation. As a co-host of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship – the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy is the secondary venue beside Cologne in Germany – the French hoped to set another promising signal after reaching the quarter-finals in Minsk 2014. Having to play Division I in 2016 wouldn’t exactly help the cause.
The good news for both France and Latvia is that they have everything in their own hands when they go head to head in the 16:15 game. Whoever wins this game, may it be in regulation time, overtime or a penalty-shot shootout, will be in for the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Moscow and St. Petersburg. For Latvia earning one point will be enough only if Austria loses in regulation time to Canada.
The recent results favour Latvia. In the only four encounters in World Championship history, the maroon-and-white team beat France in 1997 (6-2), 1999 (8-5), 2009 (7-1) and 2013 (3-1). Martins Cipulis, Janis Sprukts and Lauris Darzins scored the Latvian goals two years ago in Helsinki. With a loss, the Latvians would have been relegated instead of Austria that year.
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