ZURICH – The first World Championship in the new pre-Sochi Olympic cycle ended with a surprise winner as the national teams regroup for the following years. What’s to come after the record-setting 2010 Worlds and the Cologne final?
The 2010 IIHF World Championship was the beginning of a new Olympic cycle that will end with the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Although it’s exciting to win Worlds gold every year and nobody will ask later which gold medal was won under which circumstances, many federations think in four-year plans and several have signed their national team head coaches over 2014.
The first of four World Championships leading to Sochi was an opportunity to begin a new era with new coaches and giving younger players a chance while others ended their international careers with Vancouver 2010. At least part of this picture was visible in, let’s say, the top-eight nations in the IIHF World Ranking.
Here’s an outlook, on the 18 nations involved in this and next year’s World Championship.
1. Czech Republic: The tenure of national team head coach Vladimir Ruzicka ended with a world title – same as in 2005. Ruzicka will focus on his duties as a coach and GM of Slavia Prague while Alois Hadamczik will return behind the bench after serving as a national team coach from 2005-2008. Ruzicka leaves high expectations as winning the 2010 IIHF World Championship came as a major surprise after missing the quarterfinals at the Olympics and the last three World Championships.
2. Russia: “How could it happen?” That’s the most asked question in Russia after a team stocked with some of the best paid NHL players like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar was not able to win the World Championship gold, additionally to being ousted in the quarterfinals at the Olympics. Neither the Russian Hockey Federation nor Vyacheslav Bykov have a clear answer to who will be behind the bench next year. However, Bykov has been the only coach in modern Russia who was able to successfully merge NHL stars and players from the domestic league on the national team.
3. Sweden: Tre Kronor defended its bronze medal in Germany which can be considered as a good result, although the team was capable of more. Bengt-Åke Gustafsson’s era as a national team coach ended in Cologne. Pär Mårts, who led the U20 national team for the last three years, will take over and he hopes to build on Gustafsson’s best times when Sweden won both Olympic and Worlds gold in 2006.
4. Germany: The Germans went from zero to hero with the best finish in more than half a century. Uwe Krupp may now resign after a tournament where the team reached its potential or even overachieved – or he may stay, as is the wish from fans and players. After the successful event, both on and off the ice, determining Krupp’s status is priority number one for the German association. The higher than expected attendance, the profit to result from this and the huge public interest from the 2010 Worlds will help grassroots hockey in the country.
5. Switzerland: A new coach, new players and the best finish in 12 years. The Swiss team could be happy. However, after starting with four wins, the Swiss lost the following three, including a painful 1-0 defeat in the quarterfinals against Germany. One priority the Swiss association announced will be to talk to some players following a record number of absentees, partly due to injuries, partly for other reasons.
6. Finland: Finland won five medals since the 2006 Olympics, but the last two World Championships were the exception. While preparing the 2012 and 2013 World Championships the country is co-hosting with Sweden, the Finnish association will also focus on bringing its national team back where its expected to land: in the medal ranks.
7. Canada: The start into the new Olympic cycle with a young team ended with the worst-ever World Championship finish since 1992. But there is still plenty of time for positive achievements and Slovakia 2011 will provide a new chance to Sochi 2014 candidates to proof their abilities.
8. Denmark: The Danish team was seen as one of the strongest ever, and indeed, the red-and-whites fulfilled their expectations. The country, that had never finished better than tenth before, reached the quarterfinals for the first time in history. The opponents will be warned next year after surprising victories against Finland, the U.S. and Slovakia.
9. Norway: The Norwegians were number four of the Nordic teams this time and barely missed the quarterfinals. Norway lost the key game against Latvia 5-0 after conceding five goals in the last period. One reason for the fatigue was the sometimes vigorous, old Viking-style appearance. With fewer penalties and suspensions, Norway could be a candidate for the quarterfinals next year.
10. Belarus: Making the quarterfinals seems to be a fifty-fifty chance for Belarus. This time, in a turbulent year with three coaches and three presidents, the team was not lucky and missed the playoffs by one point. Selecting a coach and creating stability will be the first priority in the focus of the 2014 Worlds in Minsk. 2010 Worlds coach Eduard Zankovets was offered to stay at the executive committee meeting on Thursday.
11. Latvia: The expectations in Latvia were higher than the performance. The country has reached the quarterfinals every 4-5 years and the ambition of ending among the top-eight teams more often could not be fulfilled. While playing in the KHL might provide some help for the small Baltic country, coach Olegs Znaroks complains about too little competition among the circle of national team players.
12. Slovakia: Missing the quarterfinals in the third straight year is another setback for the team just one year before playing host to the World Championship. Many veterans behind the 2002 world title leave the stage while young prospects seep away in Canadian junior hockey, which weakens the Slovak league. The country hopes that coach Glen Hanlon can find the recipe and that veteran stars will help the team next year on home ice.
13. United States: Just like Canada, the U.S. came with a young team, but the pool of players is smaller, and the result worse. Losing the first two games against Germany and Denmark, both in overtime, sent the team to the relegation round. However, the thin list of candidates is a chance for others to commit to USA Hockey.
14. France: La France vive. The former up-and-down nation maintains in the top division for the third consecutive year and the contract with coach Dave Henderson was prolonged until 2014. However, to fulfil the task of qualifying for the Olympic Winter Games, the French need a better performance.
15. Italy (relegated): Buongiorno e arrivederci. Italy has potential to appear in the top division, but it has to develop more players of that level to stay there. So don’t be surprised to see the Azures back pretty soon for the next try to finish in a better position.
16. Kazakhstan (relegated): A top division nation in the ‘90s with Soviet-trained talent, the country still carried some names of those days on the roster and has yet to make the sport more popular outside of the Russian population in the country. Making the capital of Astana the new centre of hockey with a KHL team could help develop the game in the future.
17. Austria (promoted): One year ago, Austria was third-last and relegated because of Germany’s status as the host. Bill Gilligan was hired as the new coach and the goal was to develop a young team to make it ready for a promotion the top division one day. The day came as early as possible. And with some help of their players in North America (Vanek, Grabner, Nödl) the Austrians could become a serious candidate to stay in the top division for more than just a year.
18. Slovenia (promoted): Slovenia is back after two years – with a new coach and new players. Instead of trusting the old guard as in the previous top division appearances, former Miracle-on-Ice player John Harrington integrated new faces (Jeglic, Mursak, Ticar, Urbas) who immediately succeeded in Division I. That gives some hope that the country will not exclusively have to rely on the shape and availability of its only NHL star, Anze Kopitar.