While the Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full effect - which you can discuss at length here - another annual hockey tournament is about to begin. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships will begin this morning in Riga, Latvia. Between the COVID-19 global pandemic and the political upheaval in Belarus, it was questionable whether there would even be a World Championships this year. The organizers decided to move the whole tourney to Riga (the original plan was for Minsk and Riga to share the tourney). Between vaccines and practices established by pro hockey teams in the world, measures have been taken to have the annual tourney as safely as possible.
This tournament typically features many NHL players from teams who did not make the playoffs. However, since the NHL just ran through 56 games in about four months, many possible players have rejected the invitation to play in the WCs. Some of it is due to wanting to heal an injury sustained by the end of the NHL season or throughout it. Some of it is due to needing an actual break after a compressed schedule of 3-4 games per week. What this means is that the rosters for this year have several surprises. This could yield a more open tournament than in years past.
There are six members of the New Jersey Devils organization involved in this year’s tourney. As there are members of our favorite team (and one possible future member of our favorite team) involved, I am declaring the comments to this post to be an open post for all 2021 IIHF World Championships discussion. Since the games are in Riga, they will take place primarily during the morning and early afternoon for those in the Eastern Time Zone. While they are not widely televised, you can conceivably have full days of hockey for the next few weeks. Plus, the WCs include several international teams outside of the big nations, which are always interesting.
The Tournament: The 2021 IIHF World Championships
The Host: Riga, Latvia
The Days: May 21, 2021 through June 6, 2021
The Coverage: For the USA Hockey fans, the NHL Network will broadcast all of the United States’ games. As of this writing, I have not seen confirmation, but TSN may have Canada’s games.
The Format: There is a group stage and a knockout tournament stage that is determined by the group stage results. There are two groups of eight teams each. The top four countries in each group will move onto the tournament. The bottom four will not. The tournament will begin on June 3 with the quarterfinals. The semifinals will be played on June 5. The Bronze Medal Game and Gold Medal Games will take place on June 6.
As there were no other divisional World Championships played, there is no relegation round this year. All 16 teams will return for the 2022 WCs in Helsinki and Tampere, Finland.
The Teams: Here are the sixteen teams. They are the same 16 teams that qualified for last year’s tournament, which was cancelled due to the pandemic:
Group A: “Russia,” Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, Denmark, Belarus, Great Britain
Group B: Canada, Finland, United States, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Italy, Kazakhstan
Russia is in quotes because they will officially play under the name ROC. The team is indeed representing Russia, but they cannot do so officially due to a doping ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency. So they will be seen as “neutral athletes,” even though they are all Russian in reality. Even the IIHF website for the tournament lists them as Russia. In other words, it’s Russia. Forget the quotes. Let’s keep it real. It’s Russia. Russia is in Group A.
The Devils Involved: Here are the players from each nation has a member of the New Jersey organization barring any last minute changes (which can happen, Kevin Bahl was to be a part of Canada’s roster but an injury will keep him out of the tournament as of May 14):
- Belarus - Yegor Sharangovich
- Switzerland - Nico Hischier, Jonas Siegenthaler
- Slovakia - Marian Studenic
- United States - Matt Tennyson, Matt Hellickson
I did not play a trick on you. Matt Hellickson of the Binghamton Devils is on the U.S. roster. Hellickson, who is not even signed with New Jersey and signed an AHL contract back in April after his college career with Norte Dam ended, is on the U.S. roster. I know he used to be a part of the USNTDP, but uh, really? They had to go that deep into the pool for players? Apparently so. I was not kidding when I said that several rosters have surprises. The United States roster is, well, a sight to behold given how much the nation has grown in terms of developing talent over the last few decades. I do not know how much Hellickson will play, but it’ll be something if he does. Sure, Studenic played a lot in Binghamton too, but at least he actually made it to New Jersey for a few games last season.
The other Devils should show up a bit better. Hischier, whose season was cut short due to injuries, will definitely play a major role for Switzerland. Siegenthaler also did not play a whole lot this season in the NHL, so some extra international games are not a bad thing for himself. Sharangovich had a fairly successful NHL rookie season that followed a successful KHL tenure with Dinamo Minsk. I wonder how much he’ll be leaned on as he is the only NHL member of the Belarussian roster. Still, at least half of the Devils involved this year should play notable roles in this tournament. It is enough to pay attention to how they do.
There will be three Devils vs. Devils games within Group A. They will be on May 21 at 1:15 PM ET when Belarus plays Slovakia; May 27 at 9:15 AM ET when Switzerland plays Slovakia; and May 30 when Belarus plays Switzerland. Anything more will come down to who qualifies out of each group for the tournament portion and where they do so in the group.
While he is not a player, Tom Fitzgerald is a part of the U.S. Mens’ National Team Advisory Group, which supported Chris Drury, who is the GM of this year’s U.S. team, in selecting players. As the Devils are done until next season, Fitzgerald will certainly pay attention to this tournament for a few 2021 draft eligible players.
The Notable 2021 Draft Eligible Players: Normally, the international tournament to pay attention for prospects is the World Under-18 Championships. However, a couple players eligible to be drafted this year have been invited to play in the World Championships. Being named to the tournament at all is an achievement because it means that nation’s decision makers thought well enough of the player’s game that they deserve some inclusion. Even if it was a result of other more experienced players rejecting an invite. This year’s WCs include two potential first overall picks:
- Matt Beniers, C, United States - Beniers was highly touted going into this draft year and his performance at this year’s WJCs along with his freshman season at Michigan only furthered the hype. He’s seen as a 200-foot forward who works his tail off in all three zones and plays with a lot of smarts. It remains to be seen how the 18-year old will be used on this roster, but if he plays anything close to significant minutes and plays well, then there will be even more of a push to see him as the first overall pick instead of a potential first overall pick.
- Owen Power, D, Canada - Power has the measurables of a beefy NHL player at 6’5” and 214 pounds. Power moves quite well. Power plays smart on and off the puck, making a point of it to not use his size recklessly or try to force plays that are not there. The potential of Power is remarkable; enough that he could be the first overall pick this year. Power was not made available for the WJCs, but that Canada invited him to play in the WCs is certainly a mark of how he’s seen among Hockey Canada. There will be plenty more eyes on him in Riga.
- Danila Klimovich, C, Belarus - One of the surprises from the World U-18 Championships was Klimovich, who racked up six goals in five games. Josh Bell highlighted him as a riser from the tournament in this post at the Sporting News. He is listed on Belarus’ roster for the World Championships. If he is able to build on what he did at the U-18s, then he is going to rise even more as the draft gets closer. He may end up being a sleeper pick, but that is one of the things a team can identify should they pay attention to the “smaller” teams in international tournaments like this one. There are not many, but I suggest those interested in Sharangovich should keep an eye on him. Fitzgerald probably will.
William Eklund was expected to join Sweden but an injury will keep him out. Which is unfortunate as Eklund has been up there with Beniers as potential top forwards in this year’s draft class. If you want to jump ahead to the 2022 draft, then look to Slovakia. They have two 2022-draft eligible players on their roster in defenseman Simon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovsky.
The Prediction?: No? I mean, there was tournament last year, so the defending champions of Finland are two years removed from it. The rosters on paper are, well, pretty weak NHL-wise even compared to past WC rosters for big nations. It will at least be an interesting tournament. I also have zero expectations of the United States roster doing much of anything. Apologies to the Devils on them and New Jerseyans Anthony Stolarz (Edison) and Eric Robinson (Bellmawr).
Your Turn: Again, this is the open post where you can enjoy and comment and react and rant about 2021 IIHF World Championships - games, news, plays, etc. - here in this Open Post. Not anywhere else on the site, please. If it is about the World Championships, then it goes here. As usual, all site rules apply for this Open Post. Enjoy the WCs. I’ll update this on an as-needed basis.