The grand finale of the international hockey calendar is set to begin on May 6 in Russia, with the top 16 hockey nations on earth meeting in Russia to compete at the 80th IIHF World Championship.
Group A will play in Moscow, with host Russia facing off against Sweden, Czechia, Switzerland, Latvia, Norway, Denmark, and the promoted Kazakhstan team. Russia, loaded with KHL prospects and NHLers like Sergei Bobrovski, Viktor Tikhonov and Alexei Emelin, and playing before a home crowd still reeling from their 2014 Olympic performance in Sochi, will be heavily motivated to perform. Both Sweden and the Czechs are lacking from NHL players, and both are lacking by way of elite goaltenders. Pending the emergence of a dark horse like Switzerland or Norway out of the group, the Russians should be able to run away from the pack early to excite the Moscow faithful and clinch Group A without much competition besides the aforementioned Swedes or Czechs.
Group B plays in Saint Petersburg, with IHLC incumbents Canada leading the group, among Finland, the United States, Slovakia, Belarus, France, Germany and the promoted Hungarian squad. Canada will face a challenge from 2015 in that they are not this year loaded with snipers like Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza or Tyler Seguin, and while they still boast the likes of Connor McDavid and Corey Perry, this team is very green, not just in international experience, but being a very young team altogether. The Americans face a similar predicament, with a number of young NHLers and college stars making up their roster, It appears that Finland, with a nice balance of NHL stars like Jussi Jokinen, Aleksander Barkov and Mikko Koivu and KHL/Liiga players, has the most rounded roster in the group, and pending a surprise, they should emerge atop the group.
More than just Gold Medals and bragging rights are on the line, however, as the world will reconvene in just four short months in Toronto for the resuscitated World Cup Of Hockey, with all teams and players hoping for momentum entering the tournament. Of course, if one of the non-six national teams (Canada, USA, Russia, Czechia, Sweden or Finland) wins Gold in Russia, the IHLC will bypass the World Cup altogether!
From the perspective of the IHLC, a few interesting facts related to this year’s World Championship:
– Canada enters the Worlds as incumbent champions for the first time since 2014, where they lost the IHLC in their first game to France
– Canada will start the tournament against their American counterparts in the 50th ever IHLC meeting, a rivalry dating back to 1920
– this marks the sixth Worlds in Moscow and only second in Saint Petersburg; the Soviet Union has won three Gold Medals in that span, with one each for Canada, Sweden and Czechia
– the last Worlds in Saint Petersburg in 2000 only saw the IHLC change hands once, with Czechia winning Gold, while the last tournament in Moscow in 2007 saw four title changes en route to Canada’s victory
– Hungary returns for its first Top Division appearance since 2009, while Kazakhstan makes its first Championship appearance since 2014
– unlike all of the 2014 Tournament Award winners returning in 2015, none of the 2015 winners (Jaromír Jágr, Pekka Rinne, Brent Burns or Jason Spezza) are in Russia this year; only forward Taylor Hall from the Media All-Star Team is returning
Only time will tell who will raise the Championship in Moscow on 22 May and leave Russia en route to Toronto with the IHLC!