International Ice Hockey Federation

The final shakedown

The final shakedown

Sifting the Group B permutations

Published 12.05.2015 08:40 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
The final shakedown
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 3: Belarus' Andrei Stas #23 faces off against Slovakia's Tomas Kopecky #82 during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
While the top four positions in Group A are already established ahead of the last qualification stage games in Prague, the situation in Group B needs unpicking.

For two teams – Belarus and Slovakia – it’s a matter of securing a place in the last eight. For three more - USA, Russia and Finland - it’s about jockeying for position and gaining the most favourable possible opponent as the business end of the tournament gets underway.

The first issue to be decided is the team that gets into fourth place. As things stand, it’s advantage Belarus, with Dave Lewis and his men taking on Norway in the lunchtime game knowing that a point will extend their tournament. “It’s in our own hands,” Lewis said after the shoot-out defeat against Finland put Belarus three points ahead of Slovakia. “If we bring our game like we did today we will be in control of our own fate.”

Defeat against the Norwegians in regulation could still see Belarus pipped by Slovakia, though. Vladimir Vujtek’s team got an overtime win over Belarus and would progress by virtue of a better head-to-head record if it beats the USA in regulation time and claws back that three-point deficit. Either Belarus or Slovakia would then travel to Prague to play an impressive Canadian roster in the last eight.

But the Americans also have something to play for in that afternoon game – any kind of victory today against Slovakia would see them top Group B and earn a quarter-final meeting with Switzerland in Ostrava. Defeat would open the door for the winners of the evening game between Finland and Russia, both of whom are a point behind but both of home lost to the USA earlier in the group stage. Whatever the outcome, though, the Americans cannot finish lower than second.

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By the time the repeat of last year’s final gets underway at 20:15 in Ostrava, both Russia and Finland will know exactly what they have to play for. If the USA has already clinched top spot, the winner here will finish second – which could be something of a poisoned chalice since it would set up a Prague quarter-final against the Czech Republic. Vladislav Tretiak, president of the Russian Hockey Federation, suggested on Monday morning that quieting a fervent home crowd might be a greater challenge than welcoming Sweden to Ostrava. "Of course it's better to play here without having to travel," he told Sovietski Sport. "But who can make predictions? What will be, will be."

Sweden’s win over France on Monday evening means that the second-placed team in Group B will face that trip to play the Czechs in the capital, while the loser of the Russia – Finland game will stay put and await the Swedes after finishing third.


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