Co-hosts Finland will look to retain their men’s world title when the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship begins in Tampere and Riga, Latvia, from 12–28 May.
The Leijonat (Lions) did the rare Olympic Games–World Championship double last season, and the reigning world and Olympic champions will seek to hold off challenges from all sides once again.
National Hockey League (NHL) players are eligible to play in the World Championship as long as their NHL franchise is no longer involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and those players could well make the difference again this year.
Teams and players to watch at the 2023 Men’s IIHF World Championship
Group A will play at the Nokia Arena in Tampere, which was only opened in November 2021 and also served as a host venue for last year’s World Championships. That indoor stadium holds over 13,000 people and is the main arena for the championships, also holding two quarter-finals, both semi-finals, and both medal games. In Group A are Austria, Denmark, hosts Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and the United States.
Group B, meanwhile, will be based in Riga at the Arena Riga, a stadium well used to hosting the IIHF World Championships having done so in 2006 and again in 2021. Some 14,500 spectators can fit in the arena, which will host Group B games along with two quarter-finals. The teams in Group B are Canada, Czechia, Kazakhstan, hosts Latvia, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland.
Finland, Sweden, and the United States are the front-runners to qualify from Group A, with Germany and Denmark likely contesting the fourth spot between them.
While the Finns are defending champions, they will be without Patrik Laine, the Columbus Blue Jackets forward who suffered an injury towards the end of the NHL season and has opted out of the world championships to focus on recovery. Meanwhile, veteran forward Valtteri Filppula, who captained Finland to double gold last year, has not been selected for this year’s team. They will instead rely on the Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen as one of the side’s strongest players this year.
On Team Sweden, the Anaheim Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg – a Sochi 2014 Olympic silver medallist – is the most experienced head with an NHL background on the team’s extended 27-man preliminary list. Other NHLers include Rasmus Sandin and 21-year-old hotshot winger Lucas Raymond.
The United States have named a team mostly centred on players in the minor American Hockey League as well as college teams, with two-time Stanley Cup winner Nick Bonino the most experienced name on the squad. With yet another inexperienced and experimental squad, the Americans’ gold-medal drought might continue. They haven’t won World gold since clinching Olympic gold in 1960 that doubled as the world title. Indeed, they haven’t even reached the gold-medal game at a Worlds since then, although they did win bronze in 1996, 2004, 2013, 2015, 2018, and 2021.
Over in Group B, Canada are the favourites to win the group, even with a relatively young squad. An exception to that is the 34-year-old Milan Lucic, in line to make his World Championship debut for the Canadians.
Tyler Toffoli, who scored a personal-best 34 goals in the NHL this season, will help lead the front three. The 31-year-old Calgary Flames winger should help provide some experience, having won World gold in 2015. Additionally, World Junior Championship gold medallist Adam Fantilli – projected to be drafted second overall in this year’s NHL Draft – is in the squad and could raise his own stock even higher. In defence, Canada will rely on 34-year-old Brad Hunt to bring his know-how to the ice.
Czechia, Slovakia, and Switzerland all pose significant threats to the Canadians in this group. The Czechs have both Filip Chytil (22 goals for the New York Rangers) and Dominik Kubalik (20 goals for the Detroit Red Wings) among their forward group to provide the firepower. There is bad news for Slovakia however, as the breakout star from Beijing 2022 Juraj Slafkovsky has been excluded from the side after failing to recover from an injury sustained in January while playing for the Montreal Canadiens. Switzerland’s Nino Niederreiter is perhaps the most recognizable NHL name on a roster full of experience, mostly playing in the Swiss league.