LILLEHAMMER – The biggest youth ice hockey event of the season is about to kick off as the Olympic torch will be lit tonight in Lillehammer, Norway, site of the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
The second-ever edition of the YOG should be an interesting one, featuring among 70 medal events a men’s and women’s ice hockey tournament and the unique Skills Challenge competition.
There will be five teams each in the men’s and women’s tournaments. Four teams for each tournament from eight different nations were selected according to a special combined men’s and women’s under-18 world ranking established after the Men's and Women's U18 World Championships in 2015. Norway as the host nation will be awarded one male team and one female team to participate in each of the tournaments.
The first edition of the Youth Olympics, held in 2012 in Innsbruck, had no shortage of great moments. Finnish hockey fans might recall Kasperi Kapanen’s debut with the men’s national team. The then-15-old helped lead the way for the Finns, who defeated Russia in a shootout in a thrilling gold medal game.
Sweden rounded out the Nordic sweep in Innsbruck 2012, winning the gold in the women’s tournament with a 3-0 shutout of hosts Austria, whose women's national came out of nowhere to make it to the final.
Fresh off a bronze medal victory at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, the Swedes will be back in Lillehammer to defend their Youth Olympic gold against the likes of Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Norway.
Besides the team tournaments, an individual Skills Challenge will be held pitting the best 15 female and 15 male athletes, selected from a global qualification program based on the series of individual skill tests designed by the IIHF.
The following Skills Challenge competitions make up the program:
Nearly all corners of the globe will have a player represented in the competition, some athletes hailing from as far away as Argentina and New Zealand. The Skills Challenge will have an expanded qualification program compared to Innsbruck 2012, with two qualification events on the 13th (men and women, 14th (women), and 15th (men).
Following the qualification phase, which will be conducted on a head-to-head, knockout format, the top-8 female and top-8 male players from the Qualification stage will progress to compete in the Grand Final. The Women’s Grand Final is Schedule for 16th February, and the Men’s on the 18th.
Tournament hosts Norway will get things starting in a few hours’ time, as the women’s team takes on Slovakia and the men’s team faces Finland. Following the lighting of the torch, Day 2 will see a full slate of exciting matchups beginning with Canada vs Russia and USA vs. Finland, along with Czech Republic-Slovakia and Sweden-Switzerland on the women’s side. Click here for the IIHF's 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games page