The grand finale of the international hockey calendar is set to begin on 5 May in both Cologne and Paris, with the top 16 hockey nations on earth meeting to compete at the 2017 IIHF World Championship.
Group A will meet in Cologne, also home of the finals, with the group made up of hosts Germany, Russia, Sweden, the United States, Slovakia, Denmark, Latvia, and the promoted Italian team. The heavyweights of the group, Russia and Sweden, should be able to finish 1-2 atop the group, with Russia in particular looking to avoid an embarrassing exit on home ice last season. However, youth movements for the American and Danish teams could cause a splash in the group, and Germany will obviously have a lot to play for in front of home fans.
Group B, meeting in Paris, pits defending champions and finalists Canada and Finland with hosts France, Czechia, Switzerland, Norway, Belarus, and the promoted Slovenian squad. Canada should have an easy path to the medal round, but this year are missing big-name firepower like they have had in recent years, like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby or Corey Perry, plus they are weaker in goal than in past seasons. The Finns are without last year’s star players Patrik Laine and Mikko Koskinen, giving both the Czech and Swiss teams, and potentially a dark horse like France, a chance to contend for a top-two spot in the group.
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 second straight season, the first time they have done so since the 1961 and 1962 Worlds
– Canada will start the tournament against the Czechs in their 75th ever IHLC meeting, a rivalry dating back to 1920; Canada has also won the last three meetings by a combined score of 11-0
– Canada is looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Gold Medals since Czechia in 1999, 2000 and 2001; Canada has not won three straight Golds since 1950-52
– this marks the fourth World Championships in Cologne, and third in 16 years; Czechia won two Gold Medals (in 2001 and 2010), and Canada one (in 1955)
– the last Worlds in Cologne saw one of only two Worlds in modern history where the IHLC was not paired with the Gold Medal, as Norway won the IHLC after being eliminated from the medal round
– this marks just the second Worlds in Paris, the first since 1951; Canada was the previous Gold Medal winner
– Mike Matheson and Vadim Shipachyov are the only 2016 Tournament Award winners returning to the tournament this year, as Laine, Koskinen, Nikita Zaitsev and Mikael Granlund are not participating
With the NHL announcing its players will no longer participate in the Olympics, this will serve as the main tournament to feature elite-level talent for the next few years, so there should be some great action coming out of Cologne and Paris. Who will raise the trophy on 21 May, and where the International Hockey Lineal Championship will go from there, will be very exciting to watch!