The finish of the international hockey calendar is set to begin on May 10 in Bratislava and Košice, Slovakia, with the top sixteen hockey countries in the world meeting to compete at the 2019 IIHF World Championship.
Group A, meeting in Košice, sees hosts Slovakia facing off against Canada, the United States, Finland, Germany, Denmark, France and Great Britain, returning to the Top Division for the first time in a quarter century. While Canada and Finland would be the obvious choices to top the group, the American roster has one of the deepest squads in recent memory assembled, with Patrick Kane returning to captain Team USA in the hopes of their first World title since 1960. Slovakia will look to impress on home ice, while Germany will look to play spoiler. While Team GB is the most likely to be demoted back to Division IA, they can take advantage of French and Danish squads with little to no NHL presence this year.
Group B, meeting in the capital of Bratislava, will likely have the deepest support for the neighbouring Czechs, who will look to top a deep group that also features last year’s finalists, Sweden and Switzerland, along with Russia, Norway, Latvia, Italy and Austria. While the top two teams will look to top the group, with Sweden determined to go for their first Golden three-peat and Switzerland looking to prove that 2018 was not just a flash in the pan, Russia and Czechia both boast rosters stacked with deep NHL talent. Italy is a likely candidate to be relegated back to Division IA for 2020, but they will look to play spoiler and leapfrog the likes of Norway, Latvia or Austria, who will be playing near friendly fans from the other side of the border.
Click here to see the full 2018 World Championship schedule
From the perspective of the IHLC, a few interesting facts related to this year’s World Championship:
– Russia enters as incumbent champions for the fifth time since becoming an independent nation in 1992, and for the first time since 2008…when they went undefeated and won Gold
– this is the second World Championship hosted in Slovakia, with Košice and Bratislava first hosting in 2011, which saw Finland win their second ever World title
– Bratislava was also cohost as part of Czechoslovakia in 1959 and 1992, won by Canada and Sweden respectively
– Sweden is looking to become the first “three-peat” champion with three consecutive World titles since Czechia, in 1999, 2000 and 2001; Sweden has never accomplished this feat, only winning back to back in 1992-93 and 2017-18
– the tournament marks the return of Great Britain to the Top Division for the first time since 1994, and for just the second time since 1951
– returning tournament All-Stars to this year’s Worlds are 2018 MVP Patrick Kane (United States), as well as the top defence pairing of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Adam Larsson (Sweden)
While Russia will enter Slovakia with the International Hockey Lineal Championship in hand looking for Gold, who leaves Bratislava with both titles, official and unofficial, remains to be seen. With the NHL playoffs being as wild as they were, a number of elite NHL players are now available for this tournament, so the action should be more exciting than ever!