In advance of the men’s 2015 World Championships in the Czech Republic and women’s 2016 World Championships in Canada, the IIHF today announced the tournament structure and qualification format for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, with the big news being that the format will remain the same for both men and women as in Sochi 2014.
On the men’s side, the top eight ranked teams following the 2015 Men’s World Ranking, which will be updated after the World Championships in Prague and Ostrava, will automatically gain berths to the 2018 Games. With those eight teams, and host nation Korea automatically qualified, three final spots will be up for grabs in qualifying tournaments in 2015-16. Teams ranked globally 27-36 will play in a Preliminary Qualification tournament from 5-8 November, followed by the three winners playing in a Pre-Qualification tournament featuring ranked teams 18-26 from 11-14 February, with a Final Qualification tournament for those three winners (plus ranked teams 9-17) from 1-4 September 2016. From that, the three winners of the Final Qualification tournament will qualify for Pyeongchang.
As for the women’s side, the top five ranked teams following the 2016 Women’s World Ranking, which will be updated after the World Championships in Kamloops, will automatically gain berths to Pyeongchang. With those five teams, and host nation Korea automatically qualified, just two final spots will be up for grabs in qualifying tournaments in 2016-17. Similar to the men, teams ranked globally 18-24 will play in a Preliminary Qualification tournament on 25-28 August, followed by the two winners playing in a Pre-Qualification tournament featuring ranked teams 12-17, with a Final Qualification tournament for those two winners (plus ranked teams 6-11), with dates for the final two tournaments to be announced. From that, the two winners of the Final Qualification tournament will qualify for Pyeongchang.
This new picture puts a lot more emphasis on the results of both this year’s men’s and next year’s women’s tournaments, as the last qualification tournaments forced out common Olympic mainstays like Germany and Belarus for more surprising squads in Austria and Slovenia, while the women’s tournament saw Denmark and China miss the boat, surely making those outside the “big six” of men’s hockey and “big four” of women’s hockey all the more keen to succeed and skip qualification tournaments altogether.
While many questions still remain for 2018, including whether the Olympic tournament formats will remain the same as 2014, and if NHL players for the men’s tournament will even participate in light of the resuscitated World Cup Of Hockey in 2016, this helps to clarify the picture in the lead-up to Korea, surely leading to some exciting hockey in the coming years!