International Ice Hockey Federation

Trying to break the mold

Trying to break the mold

Will different teams be relegated this year?

Published 08.05.2015 14:42 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Trying to break the mold
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 3: Russia's Artyom Anisimov #42, Slovenia's Blaz Gregorc #15 and Mitja Robar #51 go down in front of Luka Gracnar #40 during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Since 2010, promotion and relegation at the IIHF World Championship has been as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. But changes are already afoot.

The 2009 tournament in Switzerland was the last time we saw a newly promoted team other than Austria, Italy, Kazakhstan or Slovenia. There, Hungary amazingly returned to the elite division for the first time in 70 years.

And, guess what? The Hungarians are coming back again for the 2016 Worlds, which will take place in the Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The other newly promoted team for 2016 will be Kazakhstan.

Starting in 2010, the same two pairings of teams were promoted and relegated each year: Italy and Kazakhstan (2010, 2012, 2014) and Austria and Slovenia (2011, 2013, 2015).

Here, at the halfway mark of the 2015 tournament, prior to Friday’s games, it’s an open question as to who’ll be sent down. The two bottom-ranked of the 16 teams will be relegated, which means the last-place team in each group will have to play in the Division I Group A next year.

Slovenia, with zero points in Group B, is in danger of suffering its usual fate. The squad starring Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings hasn’t lived up to the big expectations that came with making the quarter-finals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

But the Danes are also seriously struggling, with just one point from their tournament-opening 4-3 shootout loss to Slovakia. Denmark has remained in the elite division since returning in 2003.

There should be a special sense of urgency to stay up, since Denmark is hosting the IIHF World Championship for the first time ever in 2018. It’s never optimal to create a situation where your spot in the elite 16 might only be secured because you’re the host nation.

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(That, incidentally, is what happened with Germany in 2009. It finished 15th and would have been relegated if the tournament wasn’t taking place in Cologne and Mannheim the following year. The Germans ended up taking advantage of their free pass, coming fourth in 2010 for their best finish since 1953’s silver.)

Slovenia and Denmark will face off in the final preliminary game for both teams, which could be a do-or-die showdown on Monday.

Norway, with just three points from its historic 3-2 victory over Slovakia, isn’t out of the woods yet either in Group B.

In Group A, the “bottom-feeder race” is as tight as can be. Germany and France have three points apiece, while Austria and Latvia have two – although the Austrians have a game in hand.

The Latvians may have the clearest road to survival. They have no more elite teams to face. Their last three round-robin games are against Germany, Austria and France, and those are all winnable, although certainly not gimmes. The other countries all have one or two games left against bona fide medal contenders like Canada, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.

Like Denmark, Germany and France have special incentive to stay up, since they’re co-hosting the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Cologne and Paris.

All these factors could leave Austria on the outside looking in again. But if it’s a different nation getting relegated this year, it’ll just be another testament to the growing parity in international hockey.


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