Category: World Championships (Page 1 of 13)

Canada wins “little miracle” gold

The Canadian players celebrate the gold medal

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Nick Paul scored at 6:26 of the three-on-three unlimited overtime to give Canada gold.

Only three teams have ever won World Championship gold after losing three games. The Czechs lost three in 1999 but two of those losses came in the playoff round when the format was best-of-two. Canada lost three in 1997, including one of the best-of-three finals, and Sweden lost three in 1987 when there were two tiers of round robin games.

No team has ever lost four games and won gold.

There were only two returning Canadians from the 2019 finals, captain Adam Henrique and defenceman Troy Stecher.

For the Finns, they had eight who won gold two years ago: goalie Jussi Olkinuora, captain Marko Anttila, as well as Miikka Koivisto, Oliwer Kaski, Niko Ojamaki, Atte Ohtamaa, Petteri Lindbohm, and Jere Sallinen.

Canada had a tough start, incurring 16 minutes of penalties in the opening period to none for Finland. Ten of those came on a 2 + 10 call to Justin Danforth in the early going. Although the Finns didn’t capitalize on that man advantage, they did on the second one to Nick Paul for high sticking.

Kaski took a point shot with Mikael Ruohomaa in front. Rather than tip the puck, Ruohomaa stopped it, spun and put the puck onto his forehand, and lifted the puck in the open side as he was falling. The penalty to Paul had expired one second earlier, but he wasn’t able to get back in play in time.

The Canadians took a third penalty but managed to kill that as well. But the toll wasn’t so much on the Finnish side of the scoreboard as it was that Canada wasn’t able to get any flow to its game, and the big line of Henrique-Brown-Andrew Mangiapane managed only a few shifts without testing Olkinuora from in close.

Maxime Comtois tied the game for Canada early in the second after the Finns took two consecutive penalties that gave Canada 12 seconds on five-on-three in the process. Comtois hit the post on the first man advantage, swiping quickly at a loose puck, only to see it miss the empty net and dribble off the iron.

Next shift, though, Comtois converted. Brown took a long shot that drifted off the crossbar, and this time Comtois didn’t miss on the rebound opportunity.

The Finns had another power play later in the period, but Kuemper made his best save of the game when he stoned Kontiola from point-blank range.

With four minutes left in the period, Canada scored again when Adam Henrique knocked in a rebound, but as has become the norm in the tournament the defending team immediately went to its iPad to check for an offside. Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen challenged the play, and sure enough the goal was called back because the entry into the zone was offside.

Canada almost went ahead early in the third on a flukey play. Olkinuora misplayed a shoot-in and the puck bounced off the back of the net and rolled to the side, but Brandon Pirri couldn’t poke the puck in before he was checked.

That miss proved costly. Seconds later, Petteri Lindbohm fired a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle through traffic that beat Kuemper over the glove at 5:27, giving the Finns their second lead of the game.

But Canada pressed and drew a power play of their own. And they converted. Brown got the puck to the goal where Comtois put the puck between his legs and Henrique poked the rebound in at 12:37, tying the game, 2-2. The rest of the period felt like overtime, but neither team could score before 60 minutes. That set the stage for Nick Paul’s heroics.

U.S. defeats Germany for bronze

Team USA celebrates with the medals after a 6-1 bronze medal victory over Germany at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Riga, Latvia

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Conor Garland led the way with a goal and two assists as the U.S. defeated Germany 6-1 in the bronze medal game of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on Sunday.

Garland, a 25-year-old winger from the Arizona Coyotes, tied Canada’s Connor Brown for the tournament points lead (13) prior to the gold medal game. Jason Robertson and Christian Wolanin added a goal and an assist apiece. Trevor Moore, Jack Drury, and Ryan Donato also scored, while Tage Thompson recorded three assists.

“It just proves how much character guys they really are,” said U.S. head coach Jack Capuano. “It was disappointing the other night to lose [to Canada], but we played a great team again here today. You saw the penalty-killing, the special teams today, that’s just who we are. Whatever it takes, the sacrifices, the brotherhood we talked about, coming together in this tournament and growing together as a group.”

The U.S. succeeded in winning its fourth bronze medal in the last eight World Championships (2013, 2015, 2018). The only two losses for coach Jack Capuano’s team in Riga were to the 2021 finalists. The U.S. fell 2-1 to Finland in its opener and 4-2 to Canada in the semi-finals.

“It was tough, but it was worth it,” said 36-year-old captain Brian Boyle, who represented his country for the first time at these Worlds. “Being a part of this team is going to be one of my fondest memories of playing. I’m really thankful that they let me come on and I’m really proud to be part of that group.”

German coach Toni Soderholm mixed things up in net by starting Felix Bruckmann over Matthias Niederberger, who carried the load at this tournament. Bruckmann’s two previous Riga appearances were in the 2-0 group-stage loss to the Americans and the opening 9-4 romp over Italy. Unfortunately, his teammates weren’t able to generate enough goals on Sunday.

“We’re all incredibly sad,” said German captain Moritz Muller. “In the dressing room, no eye stayed dry. We would have deserved it. We felt that our team was very special. The fans watching on TV felt how unique this group is. We’re thankful we could have experienced this and sad we have not been rewarded.”

For the U.S., starter Cal Petersen returned the day after taking the loss versus Canada in the semi-final. Shots favoured Germany 34-30.

Petersen hailed the leadership of Justin Abdelkader, who was limited to six games as captain due to a lower-body injury, and Boyle, who wore the “C” the rest of the way. Neither veteran played in the NHL this season, although Abdelkader enjoyed a championship run with Switzerland’s Zug, and helped out Capuano on the bench after being sidelined.

“These are two guys that have already proven a lot in their own careers,” Petersen said. “And they made the choice to come over here and leave their families and sit in a bubble with 20 other young kids that maybe didn’t fully realize or have the kind of experience that they did. For them to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and put everything into this tournament, showing us what it means to be a leader and a winner, I think, is awesome.”

It was a rough conclusion for the Germans. Although they struggled to score goals as these Worlds progressed, they showcased their character and skill in key wins over Canada (3-1) and Latvia (2-1). They shocked Switzerland with a 3-2 quarter-final shootout win, and delivered a gritty effort in two losses to defending champion Finland (both 2-1), including the semi-finals.

“It’s been an experience for my lifetime,” said Soderholm. “Ever since we came together for camp and landed here, we felt that something is possible. We had good character here and it was an honour to work with them.”

Under Soderholm, the Germans have improved from sixth place in 2019 to fourth place this year.

Germany’s last IIHF World Championship medal was silver, back in 1953. The Germans stunned the hockey world at the 2018 Olympics in Korea by capturing the silver medal with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Thank you Riga, Hello Helsinki and Tampere

Kazakhstan beat host Latvia 3-2 following a seven-round penalty shootout on May 22

By Ilyas Omarov – Astana Times

The preliminary games of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship has become one of the most sensational in the modern history of hockey. It was pleasant  that the national team of Kazakhstan became one of the success stories of the championships.

The Kazakhstan national ice hockey team finished the world championship in fifth place in Group B, one step away from the quarter finals. In seven games of the group stage, the national team of Kazakhstan won 4 games, of which two – in regular time and two more – in a shoot-out.

Kazakh players  set a record In the sixth game of the Ice Hockey World Championship, the national team of Kazakhstan defeated the Italian team with a crushing score of 11-3. This result was the largest victory at the world championship. The team scored recorded  the most points at this tournament than during the entire time of participation in the world elite championships since it’s Independence.

The Organizing Committee of the World Championship in Riga named forward Nikita Mikhailis, goalkeeper Nikita Boyarkin and defender Darren Dietz the best players in the national team of Kazakhstan

Previously, at the world championships, Kazakhstan won a maximum of one game. For the first time in its history, the team managed to record 10 tournament points (before, the group scored no more than two). For the first time, Kazakh team managed to beat the reigning world champions (Finland 2-1SO). For the first time, Kazakhstan won 11:3 This result is the biggest win in tournament history.

The list of records also includes the most  goals 22. Kazakhstan have never finish in fifth place in the modern format of the group stage.

This achievement can even be slightly compared when Kazakhstan national team went to the quarterfinals at the White Olympics in Nagano in 1998.

At the World Championships 2021, the national team of Kazakhstan for the first time in many years ceased to be a team, which continuously runs between the hockey elite and the first division.

In this regard, it is necessary to pay attention to the opinion of the legend of Finnish hockey player, and former professional ice hockey winger and a five-time Stanley Cup champion, who was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history, Jari Kurri, who noted before the World Championship that Kazakhstan is able to surprise at the World Championships.

Later some foreign experts noted that the team of Kazakhstan played over its head and played beyond its capabilities.

A pleasant discovery was the play of the national team goalkeeper Nikita Boyarkin, defender Ivan Stepanenko, Darren Dietz and Jesse Blacker played reliably in defense. Veteran Alexander Shin helped the team a lot. Nikita Mikhailis showed his finesse  and fast skating hockey. Team captain Roman Starchenko confirmed his reputation. Artem Likhotnikov’s goal became one of the top 10 in the championship.

Of course, it is necessary to note the great contribution of the coaching staff headed by Yuri Mikhailis.

Next year, the national team of Kazakhstan will again go to the World Ice Hockey Championship, which is planned to be held in Helsinki and Tampere.

Hopefully, the performance of Kazakh hockey players on the Finnish ice will become even more successful in 2022.

Women’s Worlds in Calgary

WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park will host the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship

By IIHF / Hockey Canada

Following the cancellation of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, Hockey Canada has announced that Alberta will host the event for the first time, with Calgary confirmed as the new host city.

The 31-game schedule will be played at WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park from 20 to 31 August 2021, with 10 teams from around the world competing for gold. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced the new dates for the Women’s Worlds on 30 April, and the 2021 edition of tournament will mark the eighth time Canada has hosted the event.

“Despite the unfortunate cancellation of the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in April, Hockey Canada’s ongoing priority has been to host the event this year, and we have remained committed to running a world-class event in Canada,” said Scott Smith, president and chief operating officer with Hockey Canada. “A tremendous amount of work and collaboration with Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services has taken place to ensure the event will be held in a safe and secure manner. We are grateful to the Province of Alberta, the City of Calgary, Tourism Calgary, WinSport and all our event partners for working together to provide the best women’s hockey players in the world an opportunity to compete for a gold medal.” 

It has been and will continue to be a priority to make sure the women’s game is represented and played, therefore the IIHF has worked since the day of the cancellation by the government of Nova Scotia with Hockey Canada as host country and with the other participating nations to find new dates and a new venue for the event.

To maintain the safety of all participants and the greater community at large, all health and safety protocols and measures will be adhered to leading up to and for the duration of the tournament.

Teams are expected to arrive in Calgary on 10 August and will immediately enter quarantine before resuming practices and possible pre-tournament games before the puck drops on 20 August. A full tournament schedule will be announced at a later date.

Visit womensworlds.hockey for the newest developments on the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

Anger and bewilderment over Swedish ‘fiasco’

Lights off for Sweden: Tre Kronor didn’t reach the quarter-final at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship

By  Andy Potts – IIHF.com

In Sweden, the natives are restless. On national TV channel SVT, former international player Jonas Andersson described the country’s World Championship campaign as “the biggest failure in modern times”.

Online, Sportexpressen said Sweden’s early elimination in Riga was a “fiasco”.

The anger comes after a historical failure from the Tre Kronor. Since 1992, when the IIHF introduced a knock-out round to the World Championship, Sweden has always been a part of it. History shows that we have to go way back to 1937 for the last time the country failed to crack the top eight at the Worlds. 

Typically, Sweden is expected to be among the medals. Back in 1928 there was Olympic silver, and a first stand-alone World Championship medal came in 1947 with another silver in Czechoslovakia. The 1953 tournament brought Sweden the first of 11 golds. With 17 silver and 16 bronze, the Swedes arrived in Riga with 47 medals from 69 previous appearances at the Worlds.

What went wrong?

There was little apparent cause for concern when the roster was announced. Sure, there were only five NHLers, but in a year when all nations were restricted in their choices due to the pandemic Sweden was not alone in looking beyond its biggest names. OK, injury robbed the team of Carl Klingberg after just two games and defenceman Nils Lundqvist also had to drop out of the team after an encouraging start to the championship, but this was a roster that left a vacant spot among the forwards until the bitter end, which hardly suggests an urgent desire to replace those absentees.

The campaign unravelled on the first weekend. If a 4-3 loss to Denmark – the first time Sweden had lost to its rival across the Oresund in World Championship play – was an unwelcome surprise, the follow-up 1-0 reverse against newly-promoted Belarus hinted at a bigger problem. Several teams were struggling for results – the Czech Republic, a Group A rival, also went 0-for-2 – but dropping two games to rank outsiders left Johan Garpenlov and his team with little room to manoeuvre.

Briefly, all seemed well when a 7-0 thrashing destroyed Switzerland’s unbeaten start to proceedings, but a third-period implosion against the Czechs saw a 2-0 lead melt into a 4-2 loss and Sweden needed snookers. Playing catch-up, the Tre Kronor defeated Britain and Slovakia but the ROC proved one game too far and a shootout loss eliminated the team.

There were problems at both ends of the ice. The offence packed an intermittent punch – see that seven-goal show against the Swiss – but too often struggled to put pucks in the net. The team ranked just 10th for scoring efficiency, placed between Britain and Latvia. That isn’t always a disaster – Finland is currently ranked even lower and could top Group B – but the Swedish defence developed a habit of coming unstuck at key moments. The PK failed against the Czechs, opening a road back into both the game and the tournament for Filip Pesan’s team. Then, in the key battle with the Russians, two goals in 12 seconds flipped the game upside down and what could have been a vital victory turned into a crushing loss.

What they said

Head coach Garpenlov, in his first World Championship campaign, took it on the chin. “It’s a big failure for me as a coach and a big failure for us as a hockey nation,” he said after the loss on Monday. “We’re not happy with the result, but it is what it is.”

Now he is braced for a backlash as the team returns home sooner than planned. “That’s the way it works in this business,” he added. “If you don’t have the results they are gonna go after you and after the federation. For me it’s been a tough World Championship but I learned a lot. It’s been a tough year with corona, that’s been challenging not just for our team but for every team here. It’s been a different year. But then again I know people back in Sweden are not very happy.”

Garpenlov added that he felt bad for his players, and they were feeling sorry for themselves after the game as well. Victor Olofsson, whose tying goal in the third period against ROC provided a glimmer of hope – or prolonged the agony, depending on your point of view – summed it up.

“We didn’t make it to the quarter-final,” he said. “Coming into this tournament we had a goal to go all the way and win it and I think we had a team that could definitely do it. But we’re sitting here now and didn’t even make the playoffs, so it’s a huge failure for us.”

Garpenlov and Olofsson both blamed Sweden’s problems on its poor start to the competition, and team captain Henrik Tommernes agreed, dismissing suggestions that this year’s unusual circumstances played a part.

“It’s the same for every team in this bubble,” he said. “It’s definitely different but on the other hand we had 20 guys playing their first championship, so we didn’t know what to expect. 

“In the end its just hockey on the ice and those first two games kinda destroyed the whole tournament for us.”

The reaction

The Swedish media has not taken kindly to the team’s performance, with journalists quick to call for Garpenlov’s resignation.

Anger and disappointment are clear in comments from Swedish hockey legends.

“I have no comment on whether this is a fiasco or not,” said Hall-of-Famer Kent Nilsson. “They didn’t play well in the first two games.

“But it’s clear that Sweden should progress in a tournament when there are eight teams in the group. Of course they should.”

Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, who coached Sweden to its unique World and Olympic double gold in 2006 by winning the Worlds here in Riga, warned that the team could expect a rough reception when it returns home.

“They are going to have to bite on a sour apple,” he told Sportexpressen. “There will be pressure from media, and even from family and friends. People wonder what on Earth they were doing, how they got beaten by Denmark when it never happened before. Of course it will be a difficult situation.”

And he was unequivocal when asked what needed to change for next year.

“Everything,” Gustafsson added. “We really need to get to grips with this and move forward again.”

However, other voices – such as Aftonbladet’s Mats Wennerholm – called for a more cautious response. Wennerholm argued that Sweden’s World Championship successes owed more to the availability of NHL players – the Sedins in 2013, Hedman, Backstrom and Nylander in Cologne, or the Zibanejad-Rackell-Janmark line a year later in Copenhagen – than to the head coach. And he credited Garpenlov, during his time as assistant to Rikard Gronberg, with helping to rebuild the relationship between Tre Kronor and its Trans-Atlantic talent. 

The 1937 edition

Hockey in the pre-war era was a different game. The 1937 championship was played in London, England, home of a GB team that was defending Olympic and World champion. The USSR had yet to take up the game. Canada picked up its ninth World Championship, going unbeaten through the tournament. Britain was second, losing 3-0 to Canada in the final group stage. Switzerland won bronze, pushing Germany out of the medals.

Sweden played three games in the initial group stage, losing all of them and scoring just one goal. After an opening 3-0 loss to Poland, the Swedes took a first-period lead against France but lost 2-1. The final game was a 9-0 thrashing from Canada, condemning Sweden to last place in Group B and immediate elimination, without even a place in the classification round. The Swedes joined Norway and Romania in a tie for ninth place and has never since dropped so low – until now.

Finland hungry to repeat

Towering forward Marko Anttila scored huge playoff goals in Finland’s 2019 gold-medal run, and he’s one of eight returnees from that team

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Finland’s 2021 IIHF World Championship roster features a whopping 14 rookies. For some countries, that amount of inexperience would spell doom. Yet for the defending champions under head coach Jukka Jalonen, this is not necessarily a problem.

The Finns, who have won this tournament three times (1995, 2011, 2019), famously tend to overachieve when they don’t bring a roster laden with NHL talent. In 2019 in Slovakia, their commitment to team defence, coupled with a marvellous transition game, yielded three monster playoff upsets over stacked opponents, even they only had two active NHLers in forward Juho Lammikko and defenceman Henri Jokiharju. Finland topped Sweden 5-4 in overtime in the quarter-final, Russia 1-0 in the semi-final, and Canada 3-1 in the final.

After an extended two-year wait due to the global pandemic, the road to gold begins anew for the Finns in Group B in Riga. In 2006, the previous time the tournament took place in the Latvian capital, Suomi earned the bronze medal by beating Canada 5-0. Let’s take a closer look at the weapons Jalonen has in his 2021 arsenal – including eight returnees from Slovakia.

Goal

In 2019, a 25-year-old Kevin Lankinen – fresh off paying his dues as an AHL rookie with the Rockford IceHogs – outplayed Henrik Lundqvist, Andrei Vasilevski, and Matt Murray in the medal round. That sets the bar high for the two experienced KHL netminders vying for crease time in 2021.

Harri Sateri has the edge in terms of experience. The 31-year-old former San Jose Sharks prospect was Finland’s starter in both 2017 and 2018, totalling an impressive 1.85 GAA and 92.6 win percentage in 11 World Championship games. However, Sateri also came home emptyhanded both times. This season, the Sibir Novosibirsk starter amassed a 2.27 GAA and 92.2 save percentage in 47 games, but that didn’t stop his club from missing the KHL playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

If Jalonen wants to ride the hot hand, Juho Olkinuora, 30, may be his best bet. In 2019, the 190-cm, 91-kg Olkinuora made 12 saves for a 5-0 shutout versus Great Britain in his lone Worlds appearance, but you can’t read too much into that. More importantly, the 2018 CHL champion with JYP put up some of the KHL’s best regular-season numbers this season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk (1.90 GAA, 93.5 save percentage). Olkinuora led his team into the second round of the playoffs before falling to eventual champion Avangard Omsk in a six-game series.

Should third goalie Janne Juvonen (Leksands IF) get to play, it’ll be the 26-year-old’s first IIHF game since an 8-0 relegation-round win over Germany at the 2013 World Juniors.

Defence

Olli Maatta, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017), is hoping to recapture some of that winning feeling. The 26-year-old defenceman had a difficult season with the Los Angeles Kings. Maatta hit a career-low in average time on ice (16:38) on the third pairing and missed nine games after suffering an upper-body injury against Vegas on 21 March. Nonetheless, this Jyvaskyla native knows all about performing in big games.

Oliwer Kaski and Ville Pokka bring plenty of good vibes after helping Avangard Omsk take its first KHL title ever in April. Kaski, who spent 2019-20 with Detroit and Carolina’s AHL affiliates, is well-known for his hard shot, but the biggest of his 10 playoff points came when he fed Sergei Tolchinski for the 1-0 winner versus CSKA Moscow in Game Six of the final. Another freshly minted champion is 30-year-old veteran Miika Koivisto, who helped Vaxjo Lakers capture their third SHL title. Koivisto joins Kaski, Atte Ohtamaa (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl), and Petteri Lindbohm (ECH Biel) among 2019 blueline returnees.

Overall, don’t expect a ton of scoring from this group, but Jalonen should spread the minutes out smartly to maximize its potential.

Forward

Despite the unavailability of most Finnish NHL forwards and the top Salavat Yulaev Ufa trio of Teemu Hartikainen, Markus Granlund, and Sakari Manninen, the Finns will likely find ways to score by putting lots of pucks on net.

Among the nine newcomers at forward, the most eagerly anticipated debut surely belongs to Anton Lundell. The 2020 first-round pick of the Florida Panthers captained Finland to bronze at this year’s World Juniors in Edmonton with 10 points (6+4=10) in seven games. Lundell, a heady 19-year-old centre who also owns a 2019 World Junior gold medal and wore an “A” with HIFK, could be an impact player under Jalonen, whether or not he contributes offensively the way, say, an 18-year-old Sebastian Aho did in his 2016 Worlds debut (3+4=7 in 10 games).

Notching six points (1+5=6) in 17 games with the Buffalo Sabres, 23-year-old NHL rookie Arttu Ruotsalainen made a positive impression amid tough circumstances with the last-place club. The Oulu-born forward, who also racked up 27 points in just 19 games with Ilves this year, will look to fit in with a solid two-way game in his first Worlds. And winger Jere Karjalainen (HK Sochi), making his Worlds debut at age 28, led the Finns with four points at the just-concluded Czech Hockey Games. Shining in Riga would be a nice bonus for Karjalainen, since he’ll join Dinamo Riga in 2021-22.

Meanwhile, Petri Kontiola’s return to the Worlds after a six-year absence will be keenly scrutinized. The playmaking centre owns two Worlds silver medals (2007, 2014) and an Olympic bronze medal (2014) and last faced IIHF competition at the 2018 Olympics. The 36-year-old Kontiola led Liiga with 55 points (14+41=55) for HPK this season, and 29 of those points came on the power play, which is encouraging. Still, it’s hard to expect Kontiola to live up to his 2013 peak when he led the Worlds in scoring (8+8=16).

But never mind that: what can Marko “Morko” Anttila possibly do for an encore after his 2019 playoff run? Scoring the late equalizer against Sweden and the winners against Russia and Canada is an act that’ll be tough to follow for the 203-cm, 104-kg folk hero, who captained Jokerit this year. All we can say for sure is that anything is possible.

Coaching

Over the last 10 years, Jukka Jalonen’s two gold medals (2011, 2019) as a head coach have only been matched by Sweden’s Rikard Gronborg (2017, 2018). The 58-year-old, whose resume also includes 2016 World Junior gold and KHL stints with SKA St. Petersburg and Jokerit, has long been touted as a potential NHL coaching candidate, and winning another championship could springboard him across the Atlantic.

After 2019’s triumph, Jalonen told The Coaches Site that creating a positive atmosphere where the players feel respected is essential for team spirit. That’s certainly reflected in the on-ice compete level of his teams. Karpat head coach Mikko Manner returns for the fourth straight time as a Worlds assistant coach, while Assat’s Ari-Pekka Selin, who served as Kazakhstan’s bench boss at his last Worlds in 2014, is a new assistant for Jalonen.

Projected Results

With recent success not just at the Olympics and Worlds, but also at the U18 and U20 levels, the Finns now expect to medal – if not win – at every tournament. Despite a lack of big names, they could certainly top Group B, especially if Canada and the U.S. struggle to come together.

Both goaltending and defence should be solid, so medal round success will likely hinge on Finland’s ability to generate sufficient and timely scoring. Sometimes that’s a problem. Veterans like Anttila and Koivisto were there in 2018 when the Finns fell 1-0 to Canada in the Olympic quarter-final and 3-2 to Switzerland in the World Championship quarter-final. However, if they can avoid those kinds of pitfalls, repeating as champions isn’t out of the question.

Denmark faces challenges

Veteran Danish forward Morten Madsen will play in his 15th IIHF World Championship in Riga

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Denmark enters the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Riga in search of its first quarter-final berth since 2016 and third all-time. While that’s certainly a long shot, anything is possible in this season like no other.

This isn’t the strongest team ever iced by the Danes, who currently sit 12th in the IIHF Men’s World Ranking, but they’re a tight-knit group. If all the pieces come together like a LEGO model of Copenhagen’s Amalienborg Palace, the Danes might have something to smile about in early June.

Goal

Sebastian Dahm has served as Denmark’s number one netminder at four out of the last five Worlds. The exception was 2018, when Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs took over for the 10th-place home-ice finish in Herning. Dahm was just named the ICEHL’s MVP after backstopping Klagenfurter AC to its second straight championship. The 34-year-old Copenhagen native provided more reason for optimism on 29 April, as he led the Danes to a 3-2 exhibition win over Sweden, who outshot their opponents 34-8.

Youngsters like the 25-year-old George Sorensen (Aalborg Pirates) and Frederik Dichow (Odense Bulldogs) round out the netminding trio, but this load is Dahm’s to carry. At the 2019 Worlds, he recorded a sparkling 1.95 GAA and 92.7 save percentage, and he’ll see plenty of rubber again.

Defence

Malmo has played a big role in recent IIHF history, from hosting the 2014 World Juniors and 2015 Women’s Worlds to sending a wave of Swedish fans across the Oresund to attend the 2018 Worlds in Copenhagen. This year, Denmark’s blue line owes another debt of gratitude to southern Sweden’s biggest city.

Five defencemen on the Danish roster suited up in 2020-21 for the Malmo Redhawks. Who are some noteworthy names?

No Dane played more minutes in Kosice in 2019 than Jesper Jensen Aabo, who averaged 25:32 per game, and is heading into his 11th Worlds in Riga. Markus Lauridsen, who led Danish blueliners in 2019 in points (1+3=4), equalled Jensen Aabo’s 14 points with Malmo this season.

And even though finishing ninth in the SHL after getting swept by Farjestad Karlstad in a best-of-three placement series wasn’t optimal for Malmo, Danish fans hope Matias Lassen keeps showing the unexpected offensive flair he showed with two goals in the final 5-4 overtime loss. Everybody needs to step up.

Forward

There are challenges up front, starting on the leadership side. Two-time Worlds captain Peter Regin, who just jumped from Jokerit Helsinki to HC Ambri-Piotta, is out due to injury, and 37-year-old Danish NHL trailblazer Frans Nielsen (Detroit Red Wings) has declined to play after a tough season.

Winger Oliver Bjorkstrand posted career-best numbers with the Columbus Blue Jackets (18+26=44) in this abbreviated NHL season, but unfortunately, the 26-year-old forward won’t be making the trip to Riga. With Nikolaj Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets and Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals both questing for the Stanley Cup, who will put the puck in the net for the Danes?

At 31, Mikkel Boedker is unlikely to return to the NHL, but as a newly minted assistant captain with Lugano, the swift-skating winger enjoyed a solid Swiss NL season (18+17=35 in 51 games). Boedker tied Eller for Denmark’s points lead in 2019 (1+4=5), and he’s looking for redemption after going pointless in four Swiss playoff games.

Nicklas Jensen led Denmark in scoring (5+2=7) en route to the 2016 quarter-finals, and the 28-year-old Herning-born forward is coming off his fourth straight strong season with Jokerit (18+13=31 in 51 games), so he’ll be expected to chip in as well. 

Morten Madsen’s best offensive days are behind him at age 34, but the Timra assistant captain continues to make history as Denmark’s active leader in World Championship games played (90). Madsen, like Norway’s Jonas Holos, will amazingly appear in his 15th Worlds this year, second all-time only to Switzerland’s Andres Ambuhl (active) and Mathias Seger (retired).

Coaching

Heinz Ehlers, the father of Nikolaj Ehlers, earned an 11th-place finish in his 2019 Worlds debut as head coach. This 55-year-old member of the Danish Hockey Hall of Fame, who coached in Switzerland for many years, needs to make sure his team maintains good structure, with every man trusting his partners. The effort will be there.

Inculcating strong defensive play is key, as only four teams tallied fewer goals than Denmark (18) in 2019. The Danish PK also struggled in Kosice at 73.9 percent. That’s an area where new assistant coach Andreas Lilja – a 45-year-old Swede who played 580 NHL games and won the 2008 Stanley Cup on defence with Detroit – could provide valuable input.

Projected Results

Denmark has avoided relegation since reaching the top division in 2003, and even though there’s no relegation this year, it’s fair to predict Ehlers’ men won’t finish 15th or 16th. Their Group A schedule starts off as a grind, with uphill battles against Sweden (22 May) and Switzerland (23 May) before a should-win date with Great Britain (26 May).

The Danes have never defeated their next opponent, Russia (26 May), in 10 World Championship meetings. So likely, they’ll need to win their last three group games to advance: Belarus (28 May), Slovakia (29 May), and the Czech Republic (31 May). It’s possible, but finishing somewhere between tenth and 13th place is more realistic.

Russia’s new look

Long-time U20 national team coach Valeri Bragin brings fresh talent to the Russian men’s national team at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

It’s an unfamiliar Russian line-up at this championship, with just 10 of the players named on Valeri Bragin’s roster having experience at this level. That leaves 16 debutants, and two as yet unnamed additions for the Red Machine.

There is less NHL representation than usual, as well. At the time of writing, just seven places on the team go to players based across the Atlantic. The two vacant roster spots are being held in the hope that the likes of Sergei Bobrovski, Nikita Gusev, Andrei Vasilevski or Kirill Kaprizov might become available after the first round of the Stanley Cup play-offs, but the backbone of the team comes from the KHL. As such, it’s a chance to assess the depth of Russia’s program in the last major tournament before the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Goal

Goaltending is a sore point for Russia this year. At present, the Red Machine has nominated just two goalies and hopes to add a player from the NHL once the first round of the play-offs is done. However, Igor Shestyorkin and Anton Khudobin are both unavailable despite neither the Rangers nor the Stars making it to post season.

Domestic commentators noted with alarm that none of the teams that got to the final stages of the KHL play-offs had a Russian netminder as first choice, with only SKA’s Alexander Samonov seeing action in the final four. He was largely an understudy to Sweden’s Magnus Hellberg, and his team did not progress to the final. The 25-year-old looks set to be Russia’s first choice, at least at the start of the competition, as he makes his World Championship debut. Ivan Fedotov, who recently sealed a move to CSKA Moscow, is the second choice. The 24-year-old helped Traktor Chelyabinsk reach the play-offs this season and made his debut for Russia’s senior team during the Euro Hockey Tour.

The third spot might go to Dynamo Moscow’s Ivan Bocharov, currently in Riga awaiting a possible call-up. However, the progress of the Tampa Bay vs Florida series could open the door for either Andrei Vasilevski or Sergei Bobrovski to join the team. Similarly, Ilya Sorokin could sneak through the door before the May 26 deadline if his Islanders fall to Pittsburgh in the first round (series currently tied at 1-1). However, as things stand Riga 2021 represents the chance of a lifetime for an emerging Russian goaltending talent to establish himself as a leader for the national team.

Defence

Traditionally, Russian rosters are stacked with NHL forwards and rely on KHL defencemen. This year, though, it’s the other way round. Five of the seven NHLers confirmed on Russia’s roster ply their trade on the blue line, while neither Mikhail Grigorenko nor Alexander Barabanov would be widely recognised as the biggest stars in Russia’s hockey firmament.

There is a wealth of international experience from the NHL contingent, with three of them – Vladislav Gavrikov, Nikita Nesterov and Artyom Zub –featuring in the gold medal roster at the 2018 Olympics. Gavrikov and Zub took the opportunity to build on that success with a move across the Atlantic, Nesterov returned to the NHL this term after two further seasons and a Gagarin Cup win with CSKA.

Two further NHLers, by contrast, have played almost all their careers in North America. Ivan Provorov is back at a World Championship for the first time since 2017, when he won a bronze medal in Cologne. Philadelphia’s Nikita Zadorov, who graduated the Lokomotiv school and played one season in Russia’s Junior Hockey League before he too crossed the Atlantic. His first World Championship appearance came in 2019 with a bronze in Bratislava.

On a strikingly young team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s Alexei Marchenko is the oldest player on the D. The 29-year-old played in North America from 2013-2017, mostly within the Red Wings organisation but returned home in time to join the Russian Olympic roster in 2018. After winning a Gagarin Cup with CSKA in 2019, he moved on to Lokomotiv and enjoyed his most productive season with 24 (7+17) points in 2020/21. Marchenko’s Lokomotiv team-mate Rushan Rafikov is one of many World Championship debutants on the roster.

The other KHLers on the team are Metallurg’s 23-year-old Grigori Dronov, who makes his senior international debut here, and Igor Ozhiganov, 28, who earned his first championship call after playing under Bragin at SKA this season.

Forward

At the time of writing, Russia has just two NHL forwards on the books, although there is a free space on the roster should the likes of Gusev or Kaprizov become available. Both Alexander Barabanov and Mikhail Grigorenko have Olympic gold, but the two have had rather different experiences this season. Grigorenko returned for a second look at the show after previously spending three seasons with Buffalo and Colorado. However, a single season in Columbus did not promise great things and there is strong talk that he will return to CSKA in the summer. Barabanov, meanwhile, made his NHL debut with Toronto but struggled to make an impact and was traded to San Jose. Life with the Sharks seems to suit him better – he had 7 (3+4) points in nine games before the end of the season. 

That strong finish is likely to give Barabanov a spot on the first line for Russia alongside two key players from CSKA Moscow. Konstantin Okulov and Maxim Shalunov were big players in the Army Men’s run to the Gagarin Cup final. Okulov tied Avangard’s Sergei Tolchinski in the post season scoring race with 20 (6+14) points, while Shalunov’s 12 goals made him the top sniper in the play-offs. They’re set to form the first line alongside Barabanov.

Grigorenko has also been working with CSKA players in practice, lining up alongside team captain Anton Slepyshev and World Championship rookie Pavel Karnaukhov.

Two other lines have a strong Petersburg accent. Emil Galimov, Ivan Morozov and Anton Burdasov, all primed for their World Championship debuts, played together consistently for SKA last season, while Artyom Shvets-Rogovoi and Vladislav Kamenev are established team-mates for club and country. They were expected to be joined by Yevgeni Timkin, but his injury problems mean Ak Bars’ 20-year-old talent Dmitri Voronkov is likely to complete the combination in the first games of the championship.

At present, Tolchinski seems to be held in reserve despite his post-season prowess with Avangard. There are also questions about Timkin’s fitness after he was injured in Euro Tour action last week. Another SKA prospect, Vasili Podkolzin, is with the team but has not been officially added to the roster pending the results from the first round of the NHL play-offs.

Valeri Bragin has ample experience of international competition after a decade behind the bench for Russia’s U20s at the World Juniors. His record at that level is more than respectable – gold in 2011, four silvers and a bronze, plus one more silver as assistant in 2005 and gold at the U18s in 2004. Along the way, he has worked with many of these players at the start of their international careers. In addition, as head coach of SKA St. Petersburg this season, Bragin has been in charge of several of the Russian team on a day-to-day basis. 

However, the 62-year-old’s record in adult hockey is not overwhelming. He had a short, unimpressive spell behind the bench at CSKA Moscow in 2012 before returning to the Juniors, and his SKA team this season seldom looked like a big contender for honours. Moreover, Bragin’s experience as head coach of the senior national team was also limited. He took charge of two of the four stages of the Euro Hockey Tour, sharing the workload with Igor Larionov as the U20s used the Karjala Cup to prepare for their World Championship. With that Olympic defence less than a year away, Russia’s hockey chiefs will be hoping that Bragin shows enough to reassure everyone that he is the man to lead the team in Beijing.

Projected Results

Normally, the question for Russia is what colour medal it will win. This time, though, there is uncertainty. Heavy losses to the Finns and the Czechs in the last games of the Eurotour have sewn doubts about the strength of this roster, with the goaltending a particular concern. Moreover, the usual reassuring influx of NHL names is not happening this year, contributing to a sense of unease among Russian fans. It’s clear there is plenty of talent on this roster, but it’s less obvious that the players on display have the big-tournament nous to thrive when the pressure builds up.

On the other hand, every country at the championship has its own question marks after a season of tough challenges to keep the games on the ice. Russia has an advantage over many European nations in that its national championship was played in full and without interruption – and at a high standard. After unprecedented worldwide disruption at both club and international level, a full KHL season could be a decisive factor in steering the Red Machine through any turbulence in Riga. The bookmakers rate Russia as the favourite to lift the cup, and it’s certainly reasonable to expect this team to have a big say in where the prizes go.

Canada looks to the top

Canadian forward Adam Henrique returns after winning silver at the last Worlds

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Canada is at the top of the IIHF’s Men’s World Ranking and has won a medal in four of the last five years, missing out only in 2018 after a 4-1 loss to the U.S. in the bronze-medal game. A multi-faceted mix of a roster will be a challenge for coach Gerard Gallant to coordinate, but the talent is there.

Goal

Two of Canada’s three goalies know each other very well from the NHL. Canada’s likely starter will by Darcy Kuemper, who played on Canada’s 2018 team and who has been with the Arizona Coyotes for several years. He was the team’s number-one goalie this past season, posting a record of 10-11-3 and a GAA of 2.56. His backup in Arizona is Adin Hill, who will be representing his country for the first time. Hill played in 19 games with a 9-9-1 record and a save percentage of .913 in Arizona. The third goalie will be Michael DiPietro who played at the 2019 World Juniors when Canada finished a disappointing sixth.

Defence

What an incredibly diverse and interesting aggregation of talent Canada has on the blue line this year from veteran players to Owen Power, who is considered by many to be the number one prospect for the upcoming NHL draft. The 18-year-old played this past season for the University of Michigan, which wouldn’t release him to Canada for the World Juniors this past year. Playing in Riga will be great for his development, and great for fans to watch a young talent as it emerges.

Jacob Bernard-Docker helped Canada win gold at the 2020 World Juniors, and played most of this past season with the University of North Dakota. The 20-year-old also played five games for the Ottawa Senators. Another youngster is 19-year-old Braden Schneider of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who played for Canada once previously, at the 2019 U18s. 

Several others will be making their first appearance for Canada, including Colin Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, Sean Walker, of the L.A. Kings, and Nicolas Beaudin of Chicago. Mario Ferraro (no relation to Ray) will also be on the team. The 22-year-old has played for San Jose the past two seasons.

Forward

The forwards have plenty of experience either in the NHL, the international game, or both. Again, youth is well served in the lineup, but perhaps the most intriguing name is Cole Perfetti. The 19-year-old was drafted 10th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2020 and helped Canada win silver at this past World Juniors. 

But the most impressive name might well by Connor Brown, who saw a resurgence in his career with Ottawa this year. He had 21 goals in 56 games and at 27 years old is ready to help the Senators in the long term. He’ll be wearing the maple leaf for the first time in Riga. Brandon Pirri is 30 and has had a career both in the NHL and the minors, most recently with Chicago and Rockford.

The most senior member is Anaheim Ducks forward Adam Henrique. The 31-year-old is the elder statesman of the team and has 710 NHL games to his credit. He also won two silver medals for Canada, one in 2010 at the World Juniors and another nine years later at the senior Worlds. 

Canada often adds one outlier to its lineup, and this year that player is Justin Danforth. He hasn’t played in the NHL but has played extensively in the AHL before moving to Europe to continue in Finland and, this past season, with the Czech team HC Vityaz in the KHL. Nick Paul is another player who has been with the Senators since 2015, and in the last two seasons has really established himself as a bona fide NHLer. Not flashy, he is a solid two-way player who will help coach Gallant in whatever role is asked of him.

Two young forwards with the L.A. Kings are Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Gabriel Vilardi. Anderson-Dolan has played at both the U18 and U20, while Vilardi was an 11th overall selection by the Kings in 2017. Both are just starting to come into their own in L.A. Max Comtois is the most experienced player on the team for IIHF competition, but it has all been at the junior level so far. He played in two U18s and two World Juniors, winning gold at the 2018 U20.

Andrew Mangiapane is here because of his fine season with the Calgary Flames, while other young players hoping to contribute and develop include Liam Foudy, who won gold at the 2020 U20; Dillon Dube, also from Calgary and silver and gold medallist at the World Juniors; and, Brandon Hagel and Michael Bunting.

Coaching

A silver medallist with Canada’s 1989 World Championship team as a player, Gerard Gallant took the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup finals in 2018 in their first season. He was fired midway through the 2019-20 season, thus making him available for this assignment, his first behind a Team Canada bench.

Projected Results

Chemistry is the key word for Canada this year. How will all these parts from so many places in so many leagues and at such a variety of ages all fit together? Gallant will have a good deal to say about that, as well as the players’ ability to gel quickly during the few practises and warmup games they will have at their disposal. But this is a very talented group and is perfectly capable of getting to the final weekend. After that, chemistry will decide Canada’s fate, medal or no medal – and if medal, what colour?

Germans want more quarters

Goaltender Mathias Niederberger is back from Germany’s last World Championship squad in 2019

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Although much of the German program has seen a dip in recent years before recovering more recently, the senior men’s national team was resurrected under coach Marco Sturm and is getting further impetus from Toni Soderholm. It has qualified for the playoffs in three of the last four years and finished 6th in 2019, the best placing in a decade.

Goal

The Germans will have the two goalies who took them to a spot in the quarter-finals two years ago – starter Mathias Niederberger and backup Niklas Treutle. The third goalie will be 30-year-old Felix Bruckmann, who last played for Germany at the 2008 U18. Niederberger was an excellent 3-0-1 in 2019 and also played once in the 2018 Worlds as well, a year when positions were flipped and Treutle was the number-one man. Treutle also played at the 2011 World Juniors.

Defence

There is a good blend of experience and youth on the German blue line this year. At the top end, Moritz Muller at 34 is the senior man, playing in his 9th World Championship. He also helped the country win an historic silver medal at the 2018 Olympics. Korbinian Holzer, 33, played in the KHL last year and is in his 6th WM, and is the only player from the 2010 Olympics on the team. 

Jonas Muller also has plenty of time with the national team and is the only player to have appeared in all four levels of IIHF play since 2013—U18, U20, WM, and OG. His Olympics was also in 2018, winning silver. Moritz Seider is 20 and one of the bright stars of the future for the Germans. He played at the U18 two years ago and the World Juniors a year later. Marco Nowak was a teammate with Bruckmann at the 2008 U18, and Fabio Wagner has plenty of junior experience but will making his senior debut, as will Leon Gawanke, who played for the Manitoba Moose this past season, and Dominik Bittner (Grizzlys Wolfsburg).

Forward

Long-time NHLer Tobias Rieder brings instant respect to the team and will be a leader in Riga. He is the only member of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey team here (Team Europe) and is in his 5th World Championship. The only other player with NHL experience is 21-year-old Lean Bergmann, who has been playing in the San Jose Sharks system for the last two years. He played at the 2019 Worlds, as did Adler Mannheim’s Stefan Loibl. 

Matthias Plachta is in his 6th World Championship and is a teammate of Loibl in Mannheim. Plachta also played on that 2018 Olympic team. Two other Adler Mannheim forward are here as well: Nicolas Krammer, making his third WM appearance, and the veteran Markus Eisenschmid, who has played in two U18s, two World Juniors, and two senior Worlds. 

Eisbaren Berlin is also contributing three important forwards. Lukas Reichel is only 19 and played at the 2020 World Juniors. He should bring some speed and offence to the group. The 27-year-old Leonhard Pfoderl played at both the 2018 Olympics and 2019 Worlds. And, Marcel Noebels, 29, is in his 6th WM. 

Tom Kuhnhackl, the son of legendary Erich, last played at the 2011 U20 and has been in the AHL with Bridgeport the last three seasons since being acquired by the New York Islanders. He was a Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017. 

Maximilian Kastner will be making his debut with Germany, and John Peterka, 19, is another young gun to watch out for. Drafted 34th by Buffalo in 2020, Peterka is the only member of the team who played at the recent World Juniors in Edmonton where Germany finished 6th after a narrow 2-1 loss to Russia in the quarter-finals. Peterka and Tim Stutzle led the team in scoring with 10 points each this past January. 

Other forwards include Frederik Tiffels, in his fourth straight WM, and another player who has waited patiently to represent his country again, Daniel Fischbuch. He last played at the U18 in 2011. As well, Andreas Eder has a good deal of junior experience but will be making his senior debut with Germany.

Coaching

After a distinguished playing career in his native Finland, mostly with HIFK, Toni Soderholm turned to coaching, in Germany. He has been with the national team since 2019’s World Championship, where the team finished a very respectable 6th thanks to a 5-0-2 record in the preliminary round that year. That included a huge 4-2 win over Finland on the last day of the round robin. 

Projected Results

Soderholm has plenty of talent but also has high expectations, and spots are getting tougher and tougher to come by in the quarter-finals. Germany will be looking for wins over Italy, Norway, Kazakhstan, and Latvia and hoping for a strong showing against Canada, Finland, and the U.S. in the hopes of accumulating enough points to make the final eight.

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