Even with 16 teams in the IIHF World Championships, the competition is getting tougher all the time. Sure, Canada and Russia can send superteams, and Sweden nearly can. At the other end of the scale are very beatable teams like Italy:
But in between is a growing middle class that knots up the standings in interesting ways. The round-robin really matters, and any of those top teams can lose a game or two or three. I can’t help but think what this reality would mean for an Olympic tournament where each country really got to send their best players. Everyone would be better, and it would be the greatest hockey tournament ever played.
But this World Championships, which overlaps the NHL playoffs by design as part of the endless power games between the NHL, the IIHF (with the Russians and the KHL pulling the strings), and the IOC is all we have. And it ain’t half bad!
This morning, very early by my clock, Sweden defeated Slovakia to finish with 16 points in Group A.
At 10:15 a.m., Russia plays USA. They are first and third in Group A respectively with 17 and 15 points. If USA takes a single point in this game, they get second place over Sweden by virtue of having won their round-robin game. If Russia wins in regulation, the USA stays in third, and has to travel to Paris for their quarterfinal.
This is the only time in recorded history that a trip to Paris is a punishment.
The fight for the fourth and final spot in Group A is where all the action is. At 2:15 p.m. Germany, with hometown boy Leon Draisaitl on the team, face Latvia. They are tied up at nine points each, and the winner goes to the quarters, while the loser goes home. The crowd in Cologne will definitely be the 13th forward for the Germans.
If Germany wins it, they force Canada to give up home ice advantage and come to Cologne for their quarterfinal. This isn’t really a punishment, since they have to go there anyway for the semifinals.
Canada is the winner of Group B and cannot be knocked off even if they lose to Finland in their afternoon game. Finland has fourth place locked down, and while a repeat of last year’s stunning win over Canada is unlikely, if they manage it, they will move into third place. There is no word yet if Miro Aaltonen will play. He’s been in and out of the lineup and has been a non-factor for the team.
The Group B second and third place teams, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, play off at 10:15 today, and the winner gets second place, with the loser taking third or fourth. If there are ties between Finland and either of these teams, which can happen, the Czechs hold the tiebreaker over Finland, while Finland has the upper hand on Switzerland.
The quarterfinals are Thursday, May 18, with Wednesday being a travel day. The first and second place teams get home ice advantage. The exception is, as mentioned, that Germany plays in Cologne no matter their place.
Marner versus Nylander
In the other standings race, William Nylander with his goal today has 10 points in seven games, with five goals and five assists. He is in sixth place in the tournament. Mitch Marner has seven points in six games, with two goals and five assists, so a hat trick for him today and he’s all tied up with Nylander again.
Here are the highlights of today’s Sweden win, so you can see a little more of Nylander and Backstrom.