While the Stanley Cup Playoffs are in the middle of the second round, there is another hockey tournament starting up. Today is the first day of this year’s International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, which will run from May 4 to May 20 in Copenhagen and Herning, Denmark. Since the New Jersey Devils were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, national teams have been in contact with several Devils among other teams to add players to their roster. There will be five New Jersey Devils players and one Devils prospect participating in this international tournament. That is good enough reason as any to pay some attention to what will happen in Denmark.
The World Championships Format
The larger World Championships are broken down into the main championship, which is what will be starting tomorrow, a higher group in Division 1, a lower group in Division 1, a higher group in Division 2, a lower group in Division 2, one Division 3 group and a qualification division to get into Division 3. A nation can move up should they win their groups. The last place teams in the championship or the group (except the qualification) get relegated. So even the “weak teams” in the main championship have something to play for: survival.
The main championships have 16 nations, each split into two groups of eight teams. They will play each other in a group format where three points are given for a regulation win, overtime wins earn two points, overtime losses are one point, and a regulation loss is worth nothing. Based on the standings, the top four teams in each group will move onto an actual tournament for the medals. The first place team in Group A will play fourth place in Group B, the second place team in Group A will play third place in Group B, and so forth. Each game is an elimination game with the two winners playing for the Gold medal and the two semifinal losers will play for the Bronze medal.
The bottom two teams out of all 16 will be relegated to Group 1 for the 2019 tournament. Only one team is completely safe from relegation this year: Slovakia. They will be hosting 2019 IIHF World Championships. They’re in for sure. If they finish last in their group, then the 14th place team will be bumped down to Division 1 instead. That is possible. Slovakia avoided relegation by a single win in 2017; they’ll need to step it up in 2018 for their own case. If they don’t, someone else is going to be really disappointed. The previous divisions all played their games; Great Britain and Italy won their respective groups in Division 1 and will be in Slovakia in 2019. They’ll replace the two relegated teams from this year. The teams to watch for on that front are Austria and South Korea. They’re in the main championships after being promoted in 2017. They’ll have to scrape for points to avoid going back down. Yo-yo’ing between Division 1 and the World Championships is possible
The winners earn their country a boost in the IIHF rankings in addition to receiving a medal. While these tournaments are not really huge in North America, winning them is another testament to the strength of Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. They are treated as big deals in some European nations, though. Still, it’s competitive hockey. And given that it is in Denmark, the times are not so ridiculous for those of us on the East Coast.
Devils at the World Championships
The New Jersey Devils had more Americans on their roster than any other NHL team last season. It is no surprise that four of them will be representing the United States. Goaltender Keith Kinkaid, defenseman Will Butcher, forward Brian Gibbons, and forward Blake Coleman will wear the red, white, and blue in Denmark for the next couple of weeks. I’m a little surprised that Cory Schneider and Kyle Palmieri are not there. I do not know if they were asked or not, but given that the U.S. goaltenders are Kinkaid, Scott Darling, and Charlie Lindgren, I think they could have made room for Schneider (among other goalies). The forwards on the USA roster have plenty of talent as they are led by scoring-machine Patrick Kane, speedster Dylan Larkin, dimunitive scorer Johnny Gaudreau, and the complementary Anders Lee. Still, but Palmieri could have provided a further boost.
No matter. We will see these Devils play just a little bit longer before the summer. A pre-tournament exhibition win over Denmark provides some idea of what we could see to start this tournament. Kinkaid got the start and played in two periods before Darling came in the third. Butcher was a standout as he scored a goal and registered two assists. Gibbons played on a fourth line. Coleman was a scratch. With seven preliminary games in eleven days, every Devils player should see some minutes at some point. Seeing that only Butcher has a real good future in the future years, this tournament would be a good place for Kinkaid, Gibbons, and Coleman to get their names and games out there for their futures. Good performances will help them as well as the United States’ goal of going beyond fifth place (last year’s result).
It will not be an easy start for the U.S. They will play Canada today followed by tournament hosts Denmark on Saturday. Canada is never an easy opponent; they’re likely the favorites to win Group B. Yeah, they just beat them in an exhibition game but playing the nation hosting the whole tourney can be tricky. It should be expected that they make it to the medal rounds, though. The group consists of Canada, Finland, United States, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Denmark, and South Korea. America should finish in the top four out of that group; the question is where.
The full schedule is available here at USA Hockey’s website. The NHL Network will air all USA Hockey games.
The other nation to look for Devils players is Switzerland. Mirco Mueller has accepted the invitation to play for the Swiss. So did 2017 fifth-round draft pick, goaltender Gilles Senn according to Swiss Hockey News. Senn was not exactly a dominant force in the National League in 2017-18; but being brought in to play for the national team is a noteworthy achievement. He also did represent the country in four games this year already so the coaching set up is likely familiar with him. As for Mueller, this is his first World Championships but he’s represented Switzerland many times at the youth level. He had a somewhat difficult season between injuries and trying to stay in the lineup as a regular. This tournament would be a good stage for him to finish his 2017-18 and look for a better 2018-19.
Switzerland will have a trickier time navigating Group A. Their group has them, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Slovakia, France, and Austria. They should make it to the top four, but no game will be a gimmie. They’ll open on May 5 against Austria and then play Slovakia on May 6. A good start will at least avoid the worst-case scenario. They’ll get Russia and Sweden in back to back games towards the end of group play, so they need to bank what they can while they hope for the best out of those games.
There were two notable Devils who declined to play in the World Championships. Taylor Hall was asked by Hockey Canada but turned it down, presumably a result of carrying a Devils offense for the better part of 87 games. Nico Hischier played through 2017-18 with a hand injury so he will sit out the tournament as he heals up.
This is the place to discuss all World Championship games. The rules? This may be an IIHF-run tournament but they remain.
The Rules: The rules remain the rules even as this is a non-Devils playoff game open post. Please keep your comments clean, legal (read: no streams, no links to streams, no asking for streams, no streams, no streams at all), and all about the game itself. Other scores are OK, but let’s make sure the comments here are primarily about the IIHF World Championships. Also, let’s respect each other, there’s no need for drama or unwelcome nature of any sort. This is a gamethread, let’s focus on the games. Thank you for reading.