The Ice Hockey World Championships is the highest level ice hockey international tournament. It is organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation or the IIHF every year.
History of Ice Hockey World Championships
The IIHF was organized in 1908 while the European Championships, first held in 1910, was the predecessor of the Ice Hockey World Championships. The competition held at the 1920 Olympic games is considered as the first Ice Hockey World Championships. From 1920 to 1968, the hockey competition in the Olympic games was considered as its World Championship.
The Ice Hockey World Championship became an individual event in 1930 with 12 participating teams. The following year, ten teams played via round-robin and the teams with the highest final standings earned medals. In 1951, the number of participants grew to 13 with the teams split into two groups. A group of seven played for the World Championship while the remaining six teams played for ranking purposes. This format would be used until 1992 when the playoff system was introduced.
Canada was the first dominant team in the tournament as the Canadians won 12 times from 1930 to 1952. From 1963 until its break-up, the Soviet Union ruled the Ice Hockey World Championships by winning 20 times from 1963 to 1991. During the Soviets’ reign, only three other nations won the tournament: Canada, Czechoslovakia and Sweden.
Beginning the new millennium, the tournament has become more competitive with the “Big Six” of ice hockey as the major players. These teams are: Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Teams like Slovakia and Switzerland have also improved over the years.
14 teams were automatically seeded to the tournament as a result of their Top 14 placement at the 2018 IIHF World Championship while Great Britain and Italy entered via the backdoor, winning a promotion at the 2018 IIHF World Championship Division 1.
Teams were then seeded in the preliminary round using the serpentine system and according to their world ranking after the 2018 IIHF World Championship. Last May 22, 2018 the IIHF announced the seedings and the two groups. Slovakia and Norway switched groups so that the former would play in Kosice while the latter would play in Bratislava. Here are the two groups with the team seeding enclosed in parenthesis:
|Group A||Group B|
|Canada (1)||Sweden (2)|
|United States (4)||Russia (3)|
|Finland (5)||Czech Republic (6)|
|Germany (8)||Switzerland (7)|
|Slovakia (10)||Norway (9)|
|Denmark (12)||Latvia (11)|
|France (13)||Austria (14)|
|Great Britain (22)||Italy (19)|
The preliminary round begins on May 10, 2019 and will run through May 21, 2019. The top four teams in each group will advance to the playoff round or the quarterfinals which will be played on May 23rd.
The top teams from each group will face the 4th ranked team of the other group while the #2 and #3 teams from opposite groups will also play each other in knockout games. The four remaining teams will play in the semifinals with the winners squaring off in the finals to determine the 2019 IIHF world champion.
Last year, Sweden won the 2018 IIHF World Championship, their second in a row and 11th overall. Ranked as the 3rd seed in the tournament, Sweden outlasted Latvia 3-2 in the quarterfinals, blanked the United States 6-0 in the semifinals and then scored a 3-2 overtime win over Switzerland in the championship match.
Each country has played at least five games so far in the 2019 Hockey World Championships and this is the updated team standings as of 5/20/19:
Here are the latest odds to win the 2019 Ice Hockey World Championships. Odds taken from Bovada as of 5/20/19:
Russia last won the title in 2014 but is the only country to win the Ice Hockey World Championships more times than Canada. The Russians have the strongest team in the competition with Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevsky, NHL leading scorer Nikita Kucherov and Alex Ovechkin who is arguably the greatest goalscorer of his generation. Then there are the likes of Yevgeni Kuznetsov, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Gusev, Evgeni Dadonov and Kirill Kaprizov and Kirill Kaprizov who add incredible depth to this Russian side. On defense, Mikhail Sergachyov and Dmitri Orlov make the Russians very formidable to say the least. Kucherov is second in the tournament in scoring with a total of 12 points scored in five games played.
Sweden has won the Ice Hockey World Championship the last two years and have lost just one game during that period. Despite the absence of their big-named superstars, the Swedes have a team that is also stacked with talent. Vancouver Canucks pair Elias Pettersson and Loui Eriksson lead the way together with Elias Lindholm who is coming off a very good season with the Calgary Flames. Defensively, the Swedes lean on Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Adam Larsson and Mattias Ekholm.
Canada finished outside the Top 3 last year, placing 4th after losing to Switzerland 2-3 in the semifinals. There were concerns about the Canadians’ defense but so far, they have allowed just 11 goals in five games. Still, Matt Murray has a relatively inexperienced backup in Carter Hart. They also lost John Tavares to injury although they still have the likes of Sean Couturier, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris who all have played well for Canada in the past. Of course, Canada’s main pair of Thomas Chabot and Brandon Montour are around as well. Anthony Mantha leads the tournament with 7 goals in five games played.
The United States has been criticized for not sending its best team to the past Ice Hockey World Championships and have instead been more concerned with developing young prospects or sending second-rate NHL players to represent the flag. But this time around, the Americans have gone all-in with Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel and Alex DeBrincat. They also have James van Riemsdyk, Dylan Larkin, Clayton Keller and top draft prospect Jack Hughes. Their defense is young but quick with only 34-year old Ryan Suter and 31-year old Alec Martinez above 25 years of age.
Finland looks like an average team on paper without the likes of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Mikko Rantanen (for now), and Eeli Tolvanen. Instead, the team is lead by this year’s projected second overall pick of the NHL Draft in Kaapo Kakko and Toni Rajala. On defense, the Finns will rely on the likes of Mikko Lehtonen, Atte Ohtamaa, Niko Mikkola and Henri Jokiharju.
Russia doesn’t just have the strongest team in the tournament, they’ve sent one of the best teams we’ve ever seen in recent memory. If this were basketball, we’re seeing the Dream Team compete in this year’s Ice Hockey world championship. They probably have one of the best offensive teams we’ve ever seen in the tournament and yet they have played with terrific defense so far. As of May 18th, Russia has given up just three goals in five games while scoring a total of 26. They are among three teams who have scored 26 points in the tournament so far with Sweden and Canada scoring more at 32 and 28, respectively. Despite that, the Russians currently lead the tournament with plus 23 in goals scored versus goals allowed. That incredible balance between excellent offense and outstanding defense make them my favorite to win the 2019 Ice Hockey World Championship.
Sweden has a stacked lineup but they are missing their top players in the 2019 Ice Hockey World Championship. As stated earlier, there were concerns on Canada’s defense and although that hasn’t manifested as a problem so far, we are still five games done. The United States has a young unit on defense and goaltending could be a concern as well for the Americans.
From what I’ve seen so far, the Russians are a cut above the rest in the tournament and are the only unbeaten team to date. I like the Russians’ chances here as I think they have a team that has few to no holes in them and it would take a special night to beat them, especially in the playoffs. I’m picking Russia to win the 2019 Ice Hockey World Cup.