Steven Ellis

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Steven took a different route towards his hockey interests. Starting out as a big Habs fan, he started to gravitate towards the more obscure levels of hockey, such as the low level tournaments in Asia, strange club matches between teams most people in North America can’t pronounce, and even some 3am contests between Bulgaria and New Zealand. Aside from his love for strange hockey events, Steven occasionally acts as a mediocre ball hockey goalie following a failed attempt at making it to the NHL as a fourth line house league grinder. Beyond hockey, Steven is an avid racing fan and loves to chat about NASCAR, F1, Indycar, you name it. Oh, and don’t get him started on music. That is, unless you want the whole history of metal and a guitar lesson. Currently, Steven is a credentialed media member with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, as well as with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. Steven has also hosted the television show "The Hockey House" on TVCogeco in Ontario, as well as a segment under the same with on LeafsTV in Toronto. Home page: http://www.thehockeyhouse.net

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According to Switzerland journalist Flavio Viglezio, HC Lugano is expected to be named as the second Swiss team at the 2015 Spengler Cup, joining the hosts from HC Davos.

This past season, HC Lugano finished third in the 12 team NLA league, eventually falling in the quarter-finals to Geneve-Servette, the winner of the past two Spengler Cup tournaments. This year, the team will enter the season with another strong roster, as Fredrik Pettersson and Linus Klasen finished first in second in team scoring last year with 69 and 55 points respectively. Damien Brunner is also another big name on the roster, re-joining the NLA last year after a poor stint in the NHL with Detroit and New Jersey.

Just last week, it was announced that German league team Adler Mannheim would become the third team in the tournament, joining Davos and Canada at the prestigious tournament. Just a few days ago, it was announced that Geneve-Servette would pass on going for their third straight tournament championship, electing to stay home for the annual December affair.

An official announcement is expected soon.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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Just days after the 2015 World Championships came to a close, the German Ice Hockey Federation has decided not to renew coach Pat Cortina’s contract for the future.

A native of Montreal, Quebec, Cortina, 50, has had a long history of coaching internationally. Cortina got his international start with the 1992 Italian Olympic team, acting as an assistant coach for the last place finishing team. Cortina would eventually get a chance to be a head coach with Italy during the 1996 World Junior Championships, leading his team to a fifth place finishing spot in Pool B.

Eventually, Cortina would be given a chance to lead the Italians in three separate World Championship events to start off the new millennium. Success wouldn’t go in Cortina’s favour, however, and after limited success, he moved to the Hungarian team for a seven year stint. With Hungary, he did something that no previous coach has ever been able to do, earning promotion to the top division of the World Championships for the first time in the history of the country. He’d hold on as the top bench boss from 2004-2010, stepping away from the international game for a few years. Cortina would eventually land in Germany for 2013, but after limited success, including relegation from the top group of the World Juniors and a weak effort at the World Championships this year, the federation decided to step away from pursuing a new contract.

The news comes with all the buzz about the future of Mike Babcock, who made a decision to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Germany, who were never in the equation for Babcock (duh), will make a decision on a new coach in the future.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

Following an incredible 10-0-0-0 record at the 2015 World Championships, Team Canada has reclaimed first overall in the IIHF World Rankings.

For Canada, it’s been a long time since the country was on top of the IIHF chart. After the 2010 Olympics, in which Canada won their second gold medal in the four times NHLer’s were allowed to participate, Canada was considered to be the best hockey nation in the world for the first time since 2008. Before that, the team moved around between the top three in the rankings, with Canada being first from 2003-2005.

Since 2010, the team has struggled to build a strong foundation at men’s events. Despite winning the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the team fell down to fourth place following their disappointing World Championship appearance the year before. This year, however, the team brought an all-star roster to the Czech Republic, winning all ten games in en route to their 25th World Championship gold. The win moved them up three spots in the official standings, putting them in first place heading into the 2016 World Championships.

The IIHF World Rankings take into consideration only tournaments that took place over a certain period of time. For the 2015 rankings, the IIHF took into consideration every World Championships event from 2012-2015, as well as the Sochi Winter Olympics. Each year, the tournaments decrease in value, so it’s worth the same to win both the World Championships and Olympics, while winning a gold in 2012 wont mean as much today as it would be to win the 2015 championship. With Canada winning two of the three major tournaments in the past two years, their 3690 total points are just 15 more than Russia in second, who have won two of the past five major championships.

The biggest loser with the newest rankings is Ireland, who haven’t been able to participate over the past few years due to a lack of a legal arena. The team does get to keep their official IIHF status, however, giving the federation 50 teams for the first time in their history. Bosnia and Herzegovina helped out with that fact, earning a spot for the first time thanks to their World Championship debut.

The highest ranking team outside of the top division of the World Championships is Slovenia in 14th, who were recently relegated after recording just one win in Prague. What helps their case is that, despite struggling in the main division of the World Championships, they did in fact play in Sochi, giving them a distinct point advantage over teams that did not. Kazakhstan, the champions of Division IA this past April, currently sits in 17th.

RankTeamWC 2015
(100%)
WC 2014
(75%)
OLY 2014
(75%)
WC 2013
(50%)
WC 2012
(25%)
TotalChange
+/−
1Canada1200106012001060106036903
2Russia1160120010601040120036751
3Sweden106011201160120010403630–2
4Finland104011601120110011003575–2
5United States1120104011001120102035401
6Czech Republic110011001040102011203495–1
7Switzerland100094096011609203235
8Slovakia960960920100011603160
9Belarus1020102086086086030752
10Latvia88092010009209403015–1
11Norway92090090094010002990–1
12France90010008008809602930
13Germany9408608409609002920
14Slovenia82080010208208002795
15Denmark8608807809008802775
16Austria8407809408407802745
17Kazakhstan8008208808008202680
18Italy7208408207808402565
19Hungary7807207007607602415
20Japan74076064074074023451
21Ukraine7007407206807002310–1
22Poland76068068066066022752
23South Korea6807006607206802230
24Great Britain6606207607007202225–2
25Netherlands5806007406406402065
26Lithuania6406406206006002035
27Croatia62066054056052019301
28Romania5605805806206201895–1
29Estonia6005605605805601870
30Serbia52052050048048016451
31Spain5004406004605401645–1
32Mexico40042052040038014001
33Israel3604604804403601375–1
34Belgium54048054044012802
35Iceland4805405205001270
36Australia4605005005801230–2
37New Zealand4204004204601045
38China4403803804201020
39Bulgaria380320340400890
40South Africa340360320340855
41Turkey300340360320815
42North Korea3203003003007701
43Luxembourg280280280280700–1
44United Arab Emirates2202402205101
45Georgia2402201804952
46Hong Kong2602604552
47Bosnia and Herzegovina200200new
48Ireland260260195–4
49Greece240240180–3
50Mongolia200220155–1

Do it for McEichel.

In 2006, the NHL had an incredible opportunity. For the first time since the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the NHL’s best players would have the chance to compete at the Winter Olympics again. This time, however, it wasn’t in a prime spot. It was in Turin, Italy, not exactly known to be a hockey hotspot.

Earlier in the NHL season, two living hockey legends, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, began their illustrious NHL careers. For years, both players had been heralded as the next big thing, with the hype between the two teenagers higher than almost any other player in the world.

For people outside of North America, the thought of seeing these two superstars battling it out at the 2006 Winter Olympics seemed almost surreal. Two of the youngest bright stars, playing together with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Sakic and more. This wasn’t the World Juniors, this was the biggest international stage in the world.

Unfortunately, fans wouldn’t get their wish. Ovechkin would go on to play for Russia, scoring an impressive five goals en route to being named to the tournament All-Star team in just his first try. Crosby, on the other hand, did not participate. In what can only be considered as one of Canada’s most disappointing performances in recent men’s team history, Canada failed to even contend for a medal after some poor results along the way. With players such as Todd Bertuzzi and Kris Draper making the trip to Italy instead, you can imagine that scoring wasn’t their strong suit.

So that’s it. The NHL missed a really good chance to showcase two of the best players the league will ever have to a market that have had very few big league players in the history of the nation. It wasn’t the NHL’s fault, of course. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player to ever take a shot on net, was more interested in a team with character and experience over speed and skill. Well, hey, the team struggled big time, didn’t they?

Let’s not do that with the next generation, OK?

Meet Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. If you don’t know who they are, you’re likely not a hockey fan. Actually, even most non-hockey fans living in North America know a thing or two about both of them. They’re superstars of a new era, a world where physicality is slowly dying and contracts are quickly rising.  We’re devoid of the time where we’d see 5+ players getting 110+ point seasons in the NHL. The game is evolving, and with that, it’s time to bring in the next breed of hockey sensations.

McDavid and Eichel, also known as McEichel, are two of the best at what they do. They score, they’re fast, they can basically do anything they want on the ice and be very effective. In fact, Eichel went to the World Championships and really took control of the face-off dot against men, some of them almost twice his age. McDavid could have played five minutes a game and still put up incredible scoring numbers, scoring at free will every time he even thought about touching the puck.

Unlike Crosby and Ovechkin, McEichel will have about three years to hone their craft before getting a chance to participate at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. At this point, that’s more than enough time for them to both compete for the league scoring title beforehand. It’s unlikely that they’ll be far off from becoming international stars at that point, so for the sake of projection, they’ll be good enough to participate in PyeongChang.

Now, we know the NHL isn’t very interested in heading to Korea in three years, and for good reason. The league has to shut down for two weeks to allow its stars to travel, the teams don’t make any money and the risk of injury is always prevalent. Oh, and the tournament is halfway across the freakin’ world.

South Korea is not a top hockey nation. In fact, they just returned to Division IA, the second highest division of the World Championships, following heartbreak in the same group back in 2014. The country has never earned a birth in the top division of the World’s, and yet the International Ice Hockey Federation has given them an automatic birth into the 2018 Olympics due to their host status.

South Korea wont be bringing in fans and revenue based off of their own players. As it stands, only three players on the 2015 World Championship squad, Mike Testwuide, Michael Swift and Brock Radunske had a chance at the NHL, but even then, none of them ever made it out of the minors. As well, none of those three are actually from the country, and instead transferred over after meeting the IIHF’s eligibility requirements.

Do those sound like the names that people will wake up at 3am EST in the morning to watch skate around for a few hours? No, absolutely not. But Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are exactly the two guys the hockey world need. Talk to any hockey fan over the past ten years and you’ll find that the chance to see Crosby play live is something none of them will want to pass up. With all the publicity that McEichel got around the sport over the past few years, you can only imagine that the same thing would happen in 2018.

The ratings won’t be great likely due to the time zone. Yes, the big names will still get a chance to steal the spotlight, as the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin will be automatic large draws for the rest of their lives. But, like already mentioned, the timing and the actual location of the tournament will hurt the viewership, no question about it. You didn’t see the majority of NHL supporters in North America complaining about prime time viewing like we became accustomed too in Canada and the States. Bringing in two new stars that a good portion of the world will never have had the chance to see on national TV, or in person, of course, would surely signal a big boost in ratings.

We’re going to see these two battle it out with their respective NHL organizations for many years. In fact, with it pretty much confirmed notion that McDavid will be an Oiler and Eichel will be a Sabre in June, we could see the two battling for many Stanley Cups in a few years time. But there is something special about putting on a jersey to represent your country. There is something special about Wayne Gretzky bringing home the Canada Cup gold. There is something special about Dominik Hasek stealing the national spotlight in Nagano. There is something special about a group of college hockey students from the States defeating the overpowered Soviets. There is something special about international hockey, something that big time salaries and labour disputes can’t even come close to.

Make this special, NHL.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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The World Championships are truly something else.

To some hockey fans, the World Championships are a joke. The fact that it’s not best-on-best makes them turn away from the two week event in April. For them, it’s clear: they’re missing out on some of the best, if not THE BEST, hockey of the year.

I watched all 64 of the games this year and covered over 50 of them myself. It was a tough thing to do, but for me, it was totally worth it. The tournament had some incredible action every single day, and when games between France and Latvia get your heart pacing for 65 minutes, you know this tournament is something special. People claim they don’t care about the tournament because some of the best players don’t show up. If you needed any proof as to why this tournament was so great, just look at the 64 games that made up one of the best World Championships in recent memory.

Jaromir Jagr is an ageless wonder. There was some questions on whether one of the greatest hockey players ever to live would participate in this tournament after retiring from international play last year. Fortunately for everyone except his victims along the way, Jagr decided to represent his own country, and did so in magnificent fashion. Whether it be his game-changing speed or late goals to secure to a victory, the 43-year-old had no boundaries. If the loss to the Americans for third place was indeed the end of his international existence, it was a pleasure getting to watch the end of his incredible 153 game career with the national team.

Speaking of the Americans, can I say enough about them? I wrote them off as a team that would be overcome with inexperience when facing some of the stronger nations. What did they do instead? They beat Finland, Russia and the Czechs to secure the bronze medal. For many people who didn’t know they existed, Brock Nelson and Trevor Lewis helped prove to the world that the Americans didn’t need superstar forwards to produce goals. And how about Jack Eichel, the next NHL superstar? His seven points in ten games were good for third on the team, something that’s truly remarkable considering he’s the youngest player in the tournament.

As you always see at this tournament, the goaltending was tremendous. Just take a look at Pekka Rinne, who set the modern day record for shutout action at the Worlds. The funny thing is, despite his outstanding achievement, Connor Hellebuyck was putting on performances with inexperienced defense in front of him that made him worthy of the award himself. You can’t forget about the unreal goaltending from Edgars Malaskis from Latvia, Kevin LaLande from Belarus or Sebastian Dahm from Denmark, all who were relying on their puckstoppers to keep them close in big games.

Could anyone ask for a better final game matchup? Canada vs Russia. Crosby vs Ovechkin. Spezza vs Malkin. Hall vs Panarin. If the tournament was looking for an ideal gold medal game lineup, the IIHF got it. The game was certainly great for the Canadians, crushing the Russians to secure the 6-1 victory, giving them 25 gold medals in the history of the tournament. Canada was something else all tournament long, breaking record after record en route to the ultimate finish. Easily, Canada had one of the greatest teams ever at the World Championships.

Congratulations to Canada. Congratulations to Russia. Congratulations to the Americans. Congratulations to the hosts from the Czech Republic. The tournament set an all-time World Championship attendance record, finishing with 741,690 seats sold after it was all said and done. This was a fantastic tournament, and when the event heads back to Russia next year, expect some more incredible action for another two weeks. Thanks for following along.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

Canada’s bid for their first gold medal since 2007 ended successfully in Prague, Czech Republic, defeating Russia 6-1 in the final game to grab the top prize.

Game #64. This was it. The top two teams all tournament long battling it out for the gold medal. It was a fitting way to end a spectacular tournament, and right off the bat, the action was tremendous. Sergei Bobrovsky was the busier of the two goaltenders, making nine saves in the first ten minutes of the game. Both he and Mike Smith had to make good stops early, with sharpshooters such as Jason Spezza and Artemi Panarin getting solid chances at their respective ends of the ice.

For Russia, the gold medal objective was huge. After winning the tournament last year, Russia was hoping to take their second consecutive gold before heading back to Russia next year for when they host the tournament. The team brought back 14 players from last year’s roster, and with Alex Ovechkin coming back after getting eliminated in the NHL playoffs, there was a ton of optimism for the men in red, white and blue.

A ton of attention has been on how strong Canada’s defense has been. The Jordan Eberle, Sidney Crosby and Taylor Hall line has easily been one of the best in recent World Championship history, but the best scoring chance of the first came from Canada’s fourth line. After Tyler Toffoli was unable to beat Bobrovsky with six minutes to go, Sean Couturier had two good chances of his own, only to whack the puck off the post on his final attempt.

With under two minutes to go, Canada would strike first. No, it wouldn’t involve the fourth line, but instead Tyler Ennis would spin around by the right faceoff dot before getting it towards the net, with Cody Eakin tipping it in just in front of the crease. The fourth line, featuring four players, has been effective all tournament long, using their speed to opposing defenders with ease.

Canada’s bottom line would strike again in the second. After three minutes of play, Ennis skated into the zone with the puck and wrapped around the net, forcing Bobrovsky to get off balance in the Russian crease. Ennis, the top scorer on the Buffalo Sabres this past season, would then get to the doorstep before tapping it into the back of the net, giving Canada the 2-0 lead with more than half the game still to go.

Canada’s offense would result in a four goal lead before the period was even half over. First, Sidney Crosby did what he does best, scoring in his third straight gold medal game for Canada, picking up a loose puck to the right of Bobrovsky before firing it right over the blocker for the 3-0 lead.

Almost immediately after, the Canadians would take the 4-0 lead. Claude Giroux and Tyler Seguin have looked great for a few games now, and their solid chemistry would result in the fourth goal of the game. With Russia’s defense doing them no favours, Giroux spun around a defender right in front of the net before sending the puck out to Seguin, who scored on an empty cage.

The Russians looked very tired throughout the game, and their terrible second period effort really proved that.  The team managed to muster just one shot on net, giving them six after 40 minutes of play. The scoreless second period for Russia meant that Smith would go another period without allowing a goal, grabbing shutouts against Belarus and the Czech Republic in the first two elimination games this week.

With Russia just totally deflated, Canada wasn’t done with their dominance. For their fifth goal, Sidney Crosby sent the puck from the goal line to Claude Giroux in front of the net, firing it over Bobrovsky’s blocker for the 5-0 lead with just under 12 minutes to go. Less than a minute after that, Nathan MacKinnon beat the Russian goaltender with a wrist shot, hitting Bobrovsky’s glove before bouncing into the back of the net.

With eight minutes left, Evgeni Malkin would put an end to Smith’s shutout. With the Russians looking for someway to put something on the board, Sergei Mozyakin put his patented slap shot to good use by taking a wicked blast from the point, only to have Malkin tip it between the legs of Smith and in. The goal was too late, as expected, as Canada would hold on for the 6-1 victory to win the 2015 World Hockey Championships.

With the win, Canada was able to win their 25th World Championship gold medal, the most by any single nation. The Soviets/Russians combined have 27, but by themselves, neither have more than Canada. The medal for the Canadians today also gives them sole possession of first all-time in the history of the World Championships, as their 47 medals gives them one more than the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia, who have 46.

Crosby, who was easily one of the top Canadians all tournament long, would also make some history of his own. With the gold medal, the Pittsburgh Penguins star became the fifth Canadian member of the “Triple Gold Club”, consisting of players that won the gold medal at the World Championships and the Winter Olympics, as well as the Stanley Cup in the NHL. For good measure, Crosby has also won gold at the World Juniors, giving him the top prize at the top four major events for North American hockey.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

The Americans were truly the better team during the bronze medal game on Sunday, defeating the hometown Czech Republic 3-0 to take third place at the World Championships.

A big story heading into the game revolved around Jaromír Jágr. After coming out of national team retirement at the age of 43, there has been the expectation that the hometown tournament in Prague would be the last the hockey superstar would participate in. Having played in 152 international contests in the past, Jagr’s tournament was filled with excitement, scoring nine points in the first nine games to sit just one point behind Jakub Voracek for first in team scoring.

The Czechs had a few scoring chances right off the bat, but it would be the Americans that would find the back of the net first. USA is filled with unlikely scoring heroes, so it wasn’t totally strange to think that the the likes of Brock Nelson and Nick Bonino have been two of the better players in this tournament. Nelson had two great chances with about 7:20 off the clock, sending a couple of decent shots towards Ondrej Pavelec, who deflected them both away. The second save, however, saw the puck land right on the blade of Bonino, who swatted it in for the 1-0 goal early on in the contest.

With two minutes left, the Americans would take a 2-0 lead. Jack Eichel has been very impressive all tournament long, and after doing a nice little spin along the boards to get past a Czech defender, he sent it right to Trevor Lewis in front, who tipped it between the legs of Pavelec for the 2-0 goal heading into the intermission.

The Czechs would eventually show a bit more urgency near the second half of the middle stanza. The American defense did a good job of really preventing any major damage by opposing forwards for a good majority of the tournament, but today, they kept allowing the Czechs to exploit the middle. In a five minute span, the team managed to grab four identical chances, sending passes through the middle to a player in front, who would redirect the shot in close. Fortunately for the Americans, Connor Hellebuyck, one of the best goaltenders in the tournament, would come up big on all of them, proving to people why the team made the right choice going with him for the whole tournament.

With 50 seconds remaining in the period, the Americans would take the 3-0 lead. After a long, unsuccessful four minute power-play for the Czechs, the Americans would capitalize on their own when Charlie Coyle fired one home from the high slot after a nice pass by Bonino from just above the goal line. The goal would signal the end of the Czechs, who would drop the game 3-0 to give the young Americans the bronze medal.

With the bronze, USA was able to grab their second third place finish in the past three tournaments. Prior to that, the Americans last won the bronze back in 2004, when the tournament last held in Prague. The Americans haven’t won a gold at the World Championships since back in 1960, finishing with 10 points in the medal round to overcome the Canadians. The medal gives them seven bronze all-time, giving them 18 in the history of the tournament.

Yesterday, following their 4-0 loss to the Russians in the semi-finals, it was announced that Trevor Lewis, Connor Hellebuyck and Seth Jones were named the top three players on the roster. For Hellebuyck, the Winnipeg Jets prospect will have a chance at grabbing the top goaltender award later in the day, putting on an incredible performance throughout to give the Americans a chance all tournament long.

For the Czechs, Pavelec, Jagr and Voracek were named the top three players for their country. With them failing grab a medal, Canada will now move into sole possession of first place in all-time World Championships medals, with Canada’s eventual 47th medal from the gold medal game giving them one more than Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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Expected lineup:
Canada

Taylor Hall-Sidney Crosby-Jordan Eberle

Ryan O’Reilly-Claude Giroux-Tyler Seguin

Nathan MacKinnon-Matt Duchene-Jason Spzza

Tyler Ennis-Sean Couturier-Tyler Toffoli

Cody Eakin

Dan Hamhuis-Brent Burns

Jake Muzzin-Tyson Barrie

Patrick Wiercioch-Aaron Ekblad

David Savard

Mike Smith in net.

Russia:

Alex Ovechkin-Viktor Tikhonov-Sergei Plotnikov

Sergei Mozyakin-Evgeni Malkin-Nikolai Kulemin

Artemi Panarin-Vadim Shipachyov-Vladimir Tarasenko

Ilya Kovalchuk-Artem Anismiov-Evgeni Dadonov

Sergei Shirokov

Anton Belov-Egor Yakovlev

Dimitri Kulikov-Viktor Antipin

Andrei Mironov-Maxim Chudinov

Sergei Bobrovsky in net.

Lowdown:

All-time Gold Medal Match-Up Record: Russia up 2-0, 2008 and 2009

Last gold medal (total golds): Russia, 2014 (5), Canada 2007 (24)

Canada’s Record: 9-0-0-0, 60 goals

Canada’s Tournament Highlight: Comeback from 3-0 deficit to Sweden to win 6-4

Russia’s Record:  6-2-0-1, 39 goals

Russia’s Tournament Highlight: All 20 players have recorded at least a single point


Canada’s Story: No doubt, the Canadians have been the better team throughout the tournament. Scoring an average of 6.66 goals a game, the team has been absolutely dominant in their quest for their 25th gold medal. Jason Spezza, Matt Duchene and Jordan Eberle will enter the finals sitting atop the tournament in scoring, with Spezza having the advantage with 14 points.

The team didn’t have to face a lot of adversity along the way. Despite almost falling to the Swedes early in the tournament, Canada has had very little issue with any other opponent, beating Germany 10-0, Austria 10-1 and Belarus 9-0 along the way. Their two games against the Czechs proved to be the toughest for them, following up a 4-2 victory in the preliminary round with a 2-0 win in the semi-finals on Saturday.

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Hockey Canada

Canada’s Player to Watch: Mike Smith – With two shutouts in the past two elimination games, Mike Smith has stopped his fair share of shots. A highly scrutinized option in the Canadian crease, Smith has rebounded nicely from a terrible NHL regular season to win all seven games he’s participated in, making some game-saving stops along the way.  Canada’s offense has been the story all tournament long, but if Canada is going to be able to counter Russia’s offensive threats, which can be just as strong at times, they’ll need some great goaltending from the Arizona Coyotes netminder. Sergei Bobrovsky has also played outstanding for the Russians, so if Canada is going to be the champions at the end of the day, it will require some outstanding puck stopping by Smith once again.

Russia’s Story: For a team that scores nearly four and a half goals a game, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t the offensive favourites heading into the finals. Fortunately for them, the addition of Alex Ovechkin makes them as dangerous as ever. Throughout the tournament, the team was led offensively by Evgeni Dadonov and Artemi Panarin, two under-the-radar forwards that seemed to have scored at will in almost every game.

Russia suffered just one loss all tournament long, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Americans. After some big results against Slovenia, Norway, Belarus and a few others, Russia met their toughest match, Sweden, in the quarter-finals. The Russians would hold the 3-0 lead before the game was even half over, but in the closing stages of the battle, it was a one goal game. The Russians would eventually take it 5-3 at the final buzzer, earning them a spot in the semi-finals against the Americans. It was a close battle between the two teams on Saturday, but after an explosive third period, the Russians would score four goals to earn a spot in the finals. With their title as the defending World Champions on the line, they’ll be prepared to pull out goals from anyone and anywhere before it’s all over.

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Getty Images

Russia’s Player to Watch: Sergei Mozyakin – While you’d expect Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin to steal the spotlight for the Russians, Sergei Mozyakin has quietly been one of the most dangerous players at the World Championships. Leading the Russians with six goals and 11 points, Mozyakin scored the game winning goal against the Americans on Saturday against the Americans. The all-time KHL leading scorer with 445 points, Mozyakin has three World Championship medals, including two gold medal victories over Canada back in 2008 and 2009. Mozyakin look like a good replacement for Vladimir Tarasenko on the wing with Evgeni Malkin and Nikolai Kulemin against the Americans, and if that was going to be any indication for Sunday, they’ll be able to open up the offensive zone and exploit the inexperienced Candian defense for a few goals. Put it this way: if Russia wins, Mozyakin will likely have a positive impact on the result.

Projection: This is it. the winner of this highly anticipated game will take the gold medal. For Canada and Russia, scoring hasn’t been an issue whatsoever. Canada does have a 21 point lead in that category, however, and with players such as Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene and Jason Spezza leading the way for 60 goals in nine games. Could this end up being a Sidney Crosby vs Alex Ovechkin battle? With the amount of offense on all four lines of every team, don’t expect that. What you can expect, however, is a close game for 60 minutes, with Canada eventually taking the 5-4 victory to take the gold medal, just like they did back at the World Juniors a few months back.

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The Russians will have a date with the Canadians in the World Championship finals on Sunday, taking down the Americans 4-0 to earn a spot in the gold medal game.

Just under two weeks ago, the same two teams battled it out in an exciting preliminary round game, with the Americans eventually taking the 5-2 victory. This time, however, the Russians came back hungrier than ever. Finishing just two points behind the Americans for first in Group B, the Russians added Alex Ovechkin for the semi-finals just days after the Washington Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the NHL playoffs. The scoring superstar proved to be a welcome addition to the team, taking two shots right off the back as the Russians tried to grab the game’s first goal.

Right off the bat, Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck was the best player in the game. Easily a contender for the top goaltender of the tournament, Hellebuyck had to be really busy early on. A few big stops on Ovechkin and Artemi Panarin proved that point, and he had to be really quick on a save on Jake Gardiner, his own defenseman, who almost headbutted the puck into his own net. After it was all said and done in the first, Hellebuyck would finish with ten saves, just one less than the busier Sergei Bobrovsky at the other end, who mainly faced low quality shots right away.

As good as Hellebuyck was in the game, stopping nine shots in the first ten minutes of the second, the Russians looked like the much better team. The Americans struggled in their own zone, allowing the likes of Panarin and Kovalchuk to get great scoring chances around the crease. Hellebuyck was able to get the best save of the game during a penalty kill, making a huge shoulder save on a bat-in chance by Vadim Shipachyov, keeping the game tied in a match that really shouldn’t have been.

At the other end, Bobrovsky had to be sharp at the end of the period. A big stop on future NHL superstar Jack Eichel with a few minutes left was a good example of that, getting across in time to make a big pad save after some big American momentum. Some other good stops on Dylan Larkin and Seth Jones helped keep the game tied, giving fans in Prague their second big goaltending battle of the day just hours after Mike Smith and Ondrej Pavelec did a good job in the first game. By the end of the day, Bobrovsky would finish with the 35-save shutout, putting on one of the best goaltending performances of the World Championships.

Finally, after 47 minutes of play, the Russians finally were able to find the back of the net for the first time in the game. After Sergei Bobrovsky deflected the puck away, Sergei Mozyakin stole the puck and went end to end, firing the puck between the legs of Hellebuyck from the high slot to make it 1-0 Russia.

A few minutes later, Ovechkin would give his team their second goal of the game. After performing rather well throughout the contest, he was final rewarded after Justin Faulk blew a tire at the blue line, handing the puck right over to Ovechkin who ripped a shot into the back of the net.

The Russians would make it 3-0 with 4:30 left in the game to really cement the victory. After another defensive meltdown in the American zone, Nikolai Kulemin won a battle along the boards before sending the puck off to Vadim Shipachyov, who was left at the doorstep before tapping it in for the 3-0 goal. Evgeni Malkin would grab his fourth goal of the tournament with under two minutes to go to give Russia the 4-0 lead, which would last until the final buzzer to give the team the 4-0 victory.

With the win, Russia will face Canada for the gold medal game at 2:15pm EST on Sunday. The Americans will look to tackle the hometown Czechs earlier in the day, with the two semi-final losers battling it out in the bronze medal game at 10:15am EST.

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Goals by Canadian scoring stars Taylor Hall and Jason Spezza allowed Canada to take the 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic, earning a spot in the gold medal game for the first time since 2009.

The hosts had some incredible scoring chances right off the bat. First, Jaromir Jagr, the most popular player at the tournament, made a 100ft pass to Roman Cervenka, whose breakaway went to waste after Jake Muzzin scared him into shooting over in the corner.

At the two minute mark, Martin Erat almost scored the biggest of the year for him when he tipped a point shot from the blue line, only to have Mike Smith stop it with his right pad before kicking it away.

After Taylor Hall was unable to get one into the back of the net after five minutes of play after wiring it off the crossbar, the Canadians found themselves in the lead at the half-way point. The Canadians did a good job of exploiting the weak Czech defense by having Sidney Crosby make a huge pass from the neutral zone to Jordan Eberle, who got it right over to Hall in the slot for the 1-0 goal on an empty cage.

The Czechs had another great scoring chance with about six minutes left in the period. Multiple Czech players touched the puck in a mad scramble behind Smith, but defenseman Brent Burns used his giant body to lay down and make a few stops, keeping his team in the lead. The Canadians answered back with their own great scoring chance, with Cody Eakin hitting the crossbar in the final few seconds of the first, only to find out that his shot wouldn’t result in a goal.

Smith and Ondrej Pavelec may be two of the most scrutinized NHL goaltenders due to their inconsistency, but if there was a story in the early stages of the game, it truly had to be how well they were playing. Whether it be Crosby, Hall or Ryan O’Reilly getting chances on the power-play or Jagr, Cervenka and Plekanec getting in-tight chances on Smith, the goaltending was nothing short of spectacular in the game.

After what can only be described as pure dominance, Canada would make it 2-0 after taking the 9-3 shot advantage in the second. After Dan Hamius got the puck up along the boards, Jason Spezza grabbed the pass along the Czech blueline before getting the wrist shot between the legs of both Jakub Krejčík and Pavelec before finding the back of the net. For Spezza, it was his tournament-leading 14th point of the event, continuing his effort as one of the best forwards at the World’s.

With just over a minute left, the Czechs finally were able to beat Smith. Or did they? The Czechs thought they scored late when the puck did in fact hit the back of the net, but the play was blown dead after it was determined that Petr Koukal was in the crease, earning him a crease violation on the play. The call definetly infuriated the Czechs, but in the end it was the right call, allowing Canada to take the 2-0 lead heading into the third period.

The Czechs were hungry for at least one goal to set things off. Surprisingly, the third period, which saw a ton of great action, had just five combined shots in the first ten minutes, with the Czechs holding the 3-2 advantage. Their best chance of the game came with just three minutes left when Červenka broke past two Canadian defenders to go in all alone. Unfortunately for him, Burns was right there to make the incredible diving save, knocking the puck into the corner before it could get to Smith. Their inability to generate anything after that resulted in a 2-0 loss, giving Canada the 2-0 victory to advance to the finals.

With the win, Canada will face the victor of the USA/Russia game that is set for later today on Saturday afternoon. The loser will take on the Czechs, who’ll look for the bronze medal tomorrow at 10:15am EST. For the Czechs, it will be their first chance since 2012 to earn a medal, while Canada will look to grab their first gold since 2007.

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The IIHF announced today that the World Championships in 2019 and 2020 have been awarded to Slovakia and Switzerland respectively.

As an independent country, Slovakia has only hosted one World Championship when the world’s top teams made their way out to Bratislava and Kosice in 2011. The tournament will once again return to those two cities, eight years after Slovakia’s disappointing 10th place finish at their home tournament. Slovakia was the only host of the tournament, and with all the hype created thanks to the 2015 tournament being in the nearby Czech Republic, it should be a very popular event for the locals. The tournament will begin on May 3rd, 2019, and will run until Sunday, May 17th.

For Switzerland, the country has already hosted the tournament in 1935, 1939, 1953, 1961, 1971, 1990, 1998 and most recently in 2009. The tournament is set to take place in Zurich and Lausanne, with Zurich itself being the host of the tournament four separate times. Zurich was actually one of the founding cities of the IIHF, with much of it’s day-to-day activities taking place there. For Lausanne, the city will get a brand-new, 10,000 seat arena, with the excitement of the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games and World Championships in the same year giving the country much to get excited about.

Once the 2015 World Championships conclude on Sunday, the focus will shift to preparing for the 2016 tournament in Moscow & St. Petersburg, Russia. Before Slovakia will have a chance to host it in 2019, Germany/France and Denmark will host the 2017 and 2018 tournaments respectively.


 

The IIHF also announced the official locations for 28 World Championship events in 2016. Not included, however, are the dates for the Challenge Cup of Asia, Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament, a potential Gulf Cup Championship and other smaller events throughout the year.

2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
In Moscow & St. Petersburg, Russia, 6-22 May 2016
Groups to be announced after the gold medal game.

2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A
In Krakow, Poland, 23-29 April 2016
Participants: Austria, Slovenia, Poland, Japan, Italy, Korea

2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B
In Croatia, Zagreb, 17-23 April 2016
Participants: Ukraine, Great Britain, Lithuania, Croatia, Estonia, Romania

2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A
In Jaca, Spain, 9-15 April 2016
Participants: Netherlands, Belgium, Serbia, Spain, Iceland, China

2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B
In Mexico City, Mexico, 10-16 April 2016
Participants: Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Bulgaria, Israel, DPR Korea

2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III
In Istanbul, Turkey, 31 March – 9 April 2016
Participants: South Africa, Turkey, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Georgia, United Arab Emirates, Bosnia & Herzegovina

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The Irish Ice Hockey Federation released a statement via Facebook today, announcing that they will be able to keep their IIHF status for the near future.

“Following a very successful IIHF Congress the IIHA are delighted to announce the we will retain our membership status with the international federation. Many issues were discussed, including the issue of a permanent Ice Rink. However, the IIHF recognose the progress and direction of Aaron and his executive and are very pleased with the progress made following the turn of the last executive.

The IIHA contribute this success to the players, parents and coaching staff, for their continued belief in ice hockey as a sport in Ireland.”

After gaining admission into the IIHf back in 1996, the country played in their first ever World Championship event with the Ireland senior team first competing in 2004. Usually a mainstay in the bottom Division III tournament, Ireland has seen action in Division II two separate times, with 2011’s last place effort being their most recent. The national team last played at the World Championships back in 2013, finishing fourth place after a 2-3 record in Division III.

After the closure of the Dundalk Ice Dome back in 2010, Ireland was left without an official Olympic-sized rink for international competition. The country, which has fought for support for many years, was forced to sit out all competition in 2014 and 2015, and despite keeping their IIHF status, they wont be participating in 2016.

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With the whole hockey world focused on the Czech Republic right now, the IIHF has announced that Turkmenistan has been admitted as an associate member, becoming the 74th official member of the federation.

Not known for it’s hockey heritage, Turkmenistan has had some activity over the past few years. The country has three indoor ice rinks, with the biggest one, the Winter Sports Palace, holding 10,000 people. The national team has played just a single game to date, a big 7-2 victory over Minsk City back in 2013.

There has been some efforts to get the team running over the past few years. Turkmenistan has an eight-team league, with HC Galkan becoming the first MIA Hockey Cup champions. The second season is currently underway, with less than a month until the final game is set to take place.

Since 2003, Turkmenistan has hosted an eight team tournament, with teams ranging from Russian junior teams to homegrown squads. The 2013 tournament is mostly known for the 60-0 beating the St. Petersburg Silver Lions put on against the United Arab Emirates, one of the bigger deficits in recent tournament action.

While the country still has no participation from women, Turkmenistan does have a solid foundation to build from on the men’s side. They currently have 182 players registered in the country, split between 62 men and 120 junior players.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Belarussian Ice Hockey Federation had signed a developmental deal to help Turkmenistan build on their hockey program. As part of the deal, it’s expected that the two countries will work together to share information and hold training camps in the future.

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In a game that many people would have preferred to happen later in the tournament, Russia held on to take down Sweden 5-3 on Thursday, earning a spot in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Jhonas Enroth had to be very busy right away. The championship winning goaltender for Sweden at the 2013 World Championships, Enroth made six saves in the first three minutes alone as the action proved to be very stellar right off the bad. The Swedes would get the rest of the chances in the period, with the Tre Kronor forcing Sergei Bobrovsky to make a few good stops in a row to get him warmed up.

Some penalty troubles by the Swedes would result in a Russian goal. First, yet another too-many-men penalty would hurt Sweden, only to have Elias Lindholm get a questionable tripping penalty to make it a 5-on-3 power-play for Russia. On the power-play, Evgeni Malkin would make a great cross-ice pass right to KHL scoring star Sergei Mozyakin, who, somehow, found a tiny opening under Enroth’s arm and in for the 1-0 goal.

The Russians would score another goal with under five minutes to go, a controversial one if you were to ask the Swedes. After Vladimir Tarasenko took a shot at Enroth’s pad, Sergei Shirokov made his presence known by jamming the puck past the goal line just in time before the ref’s whistled the play dead. Sweden thought the whistle came first, but after a quick review, it was determined that the goal was good enough and that the Russians would take the 2-0 lead.

It took just one shot in the second period for the Russians to take the 3-0 advantage. After Nikolai Kulemin took the puck away from a Swedish attacker, he set up Malkin on an undetected breakaway, beating Enroth for Russia’s third goal, ending Enroth’s night in favour of Anders Nilsson.

Despite the early goal, the Swedes weren’t ready to just give up after a strong tournament. The Tre Kronor would get one when John Klingberg took a shot from the point after receiving a pass from Anton Lander and beat a screened Sergei Bobrovsky, who didn’t even flinch on the play.

By the end of the period, Sweden would finish with the 13-8 shot advantage. For the Swedes, they have only finished outside of the quarter-finals twice since 2000, with a sixth place finish in 2012 being their most recent finish outside the top four. Heading into the third period down two goals seemed like an impossible task against the Russians, but the Swedes were looking forward to the challenge.

Whenever a good play was made in the game, it almost always guaranteed a point from at least one of Klingberg, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Anton Lander. So when Lander scored on a great shot off of a rebound while standing all alone from the right face-off dot, it was fitting that the other two would have something to do with it. For OEL, the Arizona Coyotes defenseman came into the game with 11 points in seven games, tied for second in overall tournament scoring after Canada’s Jason Spezza moved to first with 13 points earlier in the day.

With five minutes to go, the Swedes would the game up at three after finally hitting their full potential. On this play, Lander would get another point after his shot was tipped right in front of the net by Loui Eriksson, who would score his fourth goal of the tournament to tie the game up at three.

26 seconds later, however, the Russians got one back. This time, Malkin would his third goal of the tournament, skating around the back of the Swedish net before sending it towards Nilsson, only to have Ekman-Larsson tip the puck in his own net with his skate to give the Russians the 4-3 lead late. Malkin would grab his fourth point of the game with 1:47 left when Vladimir Tarasenko scored an empty netter, getting tripped on the play but was still able to get the puck over the goal line. The Swedes looked for a few more chances before the final buzzer, but when it was all said and done, the Russians would take the 5-3 victory and advance to the next round.

With the win, the Russians will face the Americans for the second time in the tournament. During the preliminary round, the Americans took down the Russians 4-2 after great performances from Seth Jones and Jack Campbell. This time around, the Russians will have their full lineup PLUS Alex Ovechkin, with a spot in the gold medal game for both teams on the line.

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Canada would score nine goals on 50 shots on Thursday, beating Belarus 9-0 to advance to the semi-finals on Saturday.

It took Canada just 27 seconds to find the back of the net. On the first good scoring chance of the contest, Sidney Crosby made a solid pass from the corner to find Brent Burns, who was streaking right into the offensive zone before roofing it over Kevin LaLande for the 1-0 goal.

After eight minutes of action, Canada would once again see themselves finding the back of the net. Tyson Barrie created the play this time, heading into the zone before getting the puck to Tyler Ennis in front, breaking past two unsuspecting Belarussian defenseman before roofing it over LaLande’s blocker for the 2-0 goal.

Belarus was counting on LaLande to really steal the show for them. A Canadian born goaltender, LaLande has been one of the better goaltenders in this tournament, so another huge performance would be needed in the game today. His first really big moment came at 7:30 of the first, getting across in time to make a huge pad save on Claude Giroux. The save wouldn’t help his team too much, however, as a Burns shot would get tipped by Ryan O’Reilly in front of the net for the 3-0 goal, a goal that deflated Belarus’ hopes.

Before the period was over, the Canadians would get a power-play goal. Jason Spezza would take over the tournament scoring lead with his 12th of the tournament after getting the puck to Tyler Seguin, who scored on a wicked slap shot thanks to a Taylor Hall screen in front. For NHL fans, the Seguin/Hall power-play duo may sound very strange, as the pair were the big headliners at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft which created a ton of buzz all season long.

Seguin’s seventh goal of the tournament would help set the tone in the second period. With just three minutes off the clock in the second, Seguin took a pass from the corner before fanning on the shot, somehow getting it under LaLande’s right pad for the 5-0 goal.

Canada’s dominance was as evident as ever, and after a huge slap shot goal by Burns at the point, it showed how Canada was able to take full control in the offensive zone. After two periods of play, Canada had 39-16 shot advantage, with LaLande making 33 saves for the Belarussians. At the other end, Mike Smith stopped all 16 chances that came his way, but very of the shots actually were threatening by the time they reached the Arizona Coyotes netminder.

With Belarus unable to find a way to put a puck past Smith, Seguin decided to go the other way and make it 3-0. Unlike his first goal, it wasn’t a pretty one, skating right to the net and tipping it over LaLande’s shoulder for the 7-0 goal, giving him the hat-trick in the process. His Dallas teammate, Spezza, would add to his scoring lead after tricking the Belarussian defenseman in front of the net, firing the puck in the net after a slap shot over the glove of LaLande. Canada wasn’t able to get to ten goals in the game, but their 9-0 victory was more than enough as Canada would take the easy win on Thursday.

With the victory, Canada will reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2009. Their opponent for Saturday will be determined later in the day, with the victor of the Czech Republic/Finland game moving on to the next round.

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Two quick goals by the Americans in the second allowed the pre-game favourites to take down Switzerland, winning the game 3-1 to earn a spot in the semi-finals.

With both teams being more defensive minded, a high scoring game wasn’t to be expected. For Switzerland, their back end has always been their biggest asset, with their best players being Roman Josi and Mark Streit. Their shutdown nature was in full force early on, with the Swiss forcing the Americans to make too many passes in the offensive zone that would go unsuccessful.

Eventually, on Switzerland’s four shot of the night with seven minutes to go, the team in white would the back of the net. Josi is a supreme two-way talent at this tournament, and he proved it by picking the puck up from his own zone, rushing through the neutral zone before making Jake Gardiner look silly with the deke and rushing in to beat Seth Jones before getting it past Connor Hellebuyck in the American net.

At the other end of the ice, the Americans had a few solid shots stopped by Reto Berra. First, Anders Lee’s wrist shot would get stopped by Berra’s stick, only to have him get to the side of the net quick enough to keep a chance by Jones out. For Berra, the threat of having no NHL job next year gave him more of a reason to stand tall, battling back from a weak 7-2 performance against Canada to rebound with good outings against the Czech Republic and USA.

With about ten minutes to go in the second, the Americans finally found a way to beat Berra. Switzerland’s defense seemed to struggle during the second, allowing the Americans to take a distinct advantage in the offensive zone. Ben Smith would tie the game up at one after some passing by Mark Arcobello and Jimmy Vesey around the net saw the puck find its way to Smith, who knocked it in from the slot for the 1-1 goal.

Less than a minute later, the Americans would take the 2-1 lead. This time, Jones would get a pass from Anders Lee from the high slot, taking a hard shot on net that Charlie Coyle would tip in for the quick 2-1 lead.

The Americans would get a power-play goal from an unlikely source in the third period. With under 10 minutes to go, Gardiner’s point shot would beat a screened Berra to give the Americans the 3-1 advantage heading into the final stretch of play. For Gardiner, the Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman was a scratch in the final preliminary round of the game, often getting outplayed by most of his American defensive counterparts. The goal proved to be the final one for the Americans, who would on for the 3-1 victory and compete for a chance at a medal.

With the win, the Americans will have to wait until later in the afternoon for a result between Sweden and Russia. The winner of that game will face the Americans on Saturday afternoon, with the winner going off to the finals on Sunday, and the loser playing the bronze medal game earlier in the day.

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Team USA (1B) vs. Team Switzerland (4A) (9:15am EST)
Michal Eger / ČSLH
Michal Eger / ČSLH

All time World Championship Series: USA Leads 15-8-1

USA’s 2015 WC Record: 5-1-0-1, 22 goals

Special Teams: 4/22=18.18%, (PP, 8th), 2/22=90.91 (PK, 4th)

USA’s Tournament Highlight: 4-2 victory in game three over the favoured Russians

Switzerland’s 2015 WC Record: 4-0-2-1, 12 goals

Special Teams: 2/33=6.06% (PP, 15th), 3/31=90.32% (PK, 6th)

Switzerland’s Tournament Highlight: Four overtime appearances gave them the extra points needed to advance

USA Player to Watch:  Jack Eichel – Not only is Jack Eichel the youngest player on his own team, he’s actually the youngest player in the entire tournament at 18-years-old. The 2015 NHL Draft star wasn’t relied on a whole lot during the early stages of this tournament, but while playing on a team without a big time goal scorer, the youngster is finally finding his stride against much older competition. Competing in a big tournament against men for the first time, Eichel scored a huge goal in overtime in the final preliminary round game against Slovakia on Tuesday. His six points trail just Brock Nelson and Trevor Lewis on the team scoring charts, and if the Americans are to go far, he’ll likely be able to add to his offensive totals.

Switzerland Player to Watch: Kevin Fiala – After becoming just the third player in history to play in the Under-18, Under-20 and Men’s World Championships in the same year back in 2014, Fiala returned to the men’s stage in 2015 hoping to build on his two assist effort in a very limited role a year ago. His three points this year may not seem like a whole lot, but with a team with just 12 goals in seven games, finding the back of the net hasn’t been something that the team has done well. The Nashville Predators prospect knows a thing or two when it comes to playing against some of the young guns on the Americans, so this could be a good chance for him to break out of his shell and help his team battle until the end.

Prediction: Despite this game being between a team that had a ton of success versus a team that never seemed to control anything, this match will surely not be a blowout. The Americans have been one of the best teams throughout the tournament, getting some scoring help from some of the most unlikely of sources. The Swiss, however, don’t score a lot, but their defense has held up quite well. At the same time, Torey Krug, Seth Jones and Justin Faulk have all played well for the Americans, and with Connor Hellebuyck doing everything he possibly can in the American net, expect a tight 60 minutes with the Americans eventually coming out on top.

Team Canada (1A) vs. Team Belarus (4B) (10:15am EST)
Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe
Martin Rose/Getty Images Europe

All time World Championship Series: Canada leads 7-0-0

Canada’s 2015 WC Record: 7-0-0-0, 49 goals

Special Teams: 8/25=32% (PP, 2nd), 1/16=93.75% (PK, 3rd)

Canada’s Tournament Highlight: Comeback from 3-0 deficit to Sweden to win 6-4

Belarus’ 2015 WC Record: 4-0-2-1, 20 goals

Special Teams: 4/26=15.38% (PP, 11th), 5/25=80% (PK, 9th)

Belarus’ Tournament Highlight: 5-2 victory over the favoured Americans

Canada Player to Watch: Jordan Eberle – When the announcement that Sidney Crosby would be joining Team Canada became public, the hockey world was surprised that a player of his magnitude would go to a tournament that tends to have a bad rap in North America. But the one player that seemed to be forgotten about right away was Jordan Eberle, the same guy who basically took the World Junior Hockey tournament by storm back in 2009 and 2010. Tied for fifth in tournament scoring with 10 points in seven games (a single point behind four players in first) Eberle and Edmonton Oilers teammate Taylor Hall has seen some fantastic chemistry all tournament long, and having Sidney Crosby on your line doesn’t exactly hurt your chances. Canada has the best scoring team in the entire tournament, and if Canada is going to end up running up the score, you can count on Eberle being a factor.

Belarus Player to Watch: Kevin LaLande -In something that isn’t overly common with top tier teams, Belarus’ star goaltender is actually from Canada. A native of Kingston, ON., LaLande moved to Belarus to play with the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk back in 2011, a Belarussian team participating in the Russian league. Playing on a team that isn’t strong up front, LaLande has posted a 4-2-0 record in six games with Belarus, a solid record considering he has had to battle against injuries for a good portion of the tournament. It’s worth noting that LaLande’s SV% is .920, much better than the .902 that Mike Smith has heading into the quarter’s. If Belarus is going to steal a game, it’ll be because of LaLande’s play.

Prediction: Canada will win this won, but it wont be the blowout you may expect. If LaLande can hold up, and Belarus can get scoring from Alexei Kalyuzhny and the Kostitsyn brothers, it could end up being a close contest. However, don’t bet against Canada in this one.

Team Sweden (2A) vs. Team Russia (3B) (1:15pm EST)
 Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America

All time World Championship Series: Russia leads 11-8-1

Sweden’s 2015 WC Record: 4-1-1-1, 34 goals

Special Teams: 7/30=23.33% (PP, 4th), 5/24=79.17% (PK)

Sweden’s Tournament Highlight: Hat-tricks from Filip Forsberg and Loui Eriksson early on

Russia’s 2015 WC Record: 4-2-0-1, 30 goals

Special Teams: 8/20=44% (PP, 1st), 3/18=83.33 (PK)

Russia’s Tournament Highlight: All 20 players have recorded at least a single point

Sweden’s Player to Watch: Oliver Ekman-Larsson – It’s easy to pick the guy who is tied for the top scorer as the top player to watch, but with the way Ekman-Larsson has played throughout, there is no question he’ll be named the top defenseman if everything holds up. Offensively, his 11 points are four more than Brent Burns has accumulated for Canada, the second top scoring defenseman in the tournament. If OEL can hold on for the remainder of the tournament, the Arizona Coyotes defenseman could become the first defenseman to lead the World Championships in scoring, a solid feat considering how close the title run has been this year.

Russia’s Player to Watch: Artemi Panarin – Again, Artemi Panarin is one of the top scorers, sitting tied for first with OEL and and Russian linemate Evgeni Dadonov. Panarin, a recent signing by the Chicago Blackhawks, has torn apart the this tournament to shreds, with his line of Dadonov and Vadim Shipachyov finding the net quite regularly. The KHL’s top scorer this past year, Panarin’s four goals at the Euro Hockey Challenge earlier this year was a good indication of what was to come. Who said you need top NHL talent to have a strong team offensively?

Prediction: This match is more fitting then you would believe. The past two champions at the World Championships, Sweden and Russia are two of the biggest powerhouses in hockey that seem to be competitive no matter who they suit up. Since November, the two teams have met four times at the Euro Hockey Tour, with Sweden winning three of the matches in a series where every single game was decided by a single goal. Expect the same thing to happen in the quarter-finals, but we personally give Russia the edge at the end as they look to defend their World Championship title from 2014.

Team Finland (2B) vs. Team Czech Republic (3A)
Darko Bandic/The Associated Press
Darko Bandic/The Associated Press

All time World Championship Series: Czech Republic leads 12-7-3

Finland’s 2015 WC Record: 4-2-0-1, 22 goals

Special Teams: 6/25=24% (PP, 3rd),

Finland’s Tournament Highlight: Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros set the all-time team shutout record after 14 periods of scoreless hockey

Czech Republic’s 2015 WC Record: 4-1-1-1. 27 goals

Special Teams: 7/31=22.58% (PP, 6th),

Czech Republic’s Tournament Highlight: 

Finland’s Player to Watch: Joonas Donskoi – To most North Americans, Donskoi is an unknown entity. At the World Championships, however, he’s as clutch as it gets. In the final preliminary round game against the Russians, Donskoi score the goal to help force overtime, only to score on his second shootout attempt to lead his team to victory. Previously, Donskoi was able to secure the game winners against both Slovakia and Belarus, making himself easily one of the best players in the later stages of a game. Most of his offense doesn’t come until near the end of the game, so if Rinne can hold on just like he has for most of the tournament, expect the former Florida Panthers prospect to make some noise.

Czech Republic’s Player to Watch: Jaromír Jágr – There are a ton of great players that could absolutely take this spot, but Jagr playing at the top of his game at home, it’s hard to go against him. Jagr is doing everything right, setting players up, scoring goals and using his speed to make players 20 years younger look stupid. He’s also a national icon in the Czech Republic, with no player getting a louder reception prior or during a game. In fact, even when Jagr was sitting on the bench on Tuesday, not participating during the game, the crowd still made sure to let him know how much of an impact he has on the team. With a Euro Hockey Tour rival at the other end of the ice, and a chance at a final gold medal while playing at home at his finger tips, you can expect to see Jagr in key situations if the game ends up getting close.

Prediction: To some, this may seem like a pretty underrated match. With Russia/Finland and USA/Switzerland looking to have the most buzz right now, Finland and the Czech Republic should be a solid game thanks to their long standing rivalry on the Euro Hockey Tour scene. In the four times the two teams met during the year, the season series finished tied at two wins each. Both teams have some very obvious strengths, but with a championship medal meaning so much to the Czech’s this year, look for them to come out faster and harder than ever, taking the win in the process.

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In a game featuring two superstar goaltenders between the pipes, Finland and Russia played a truly amazing game to end the preliminary round of the World Championships, with the former taking the game 3-2 on Tuesday.

Russia grabbed the first goal of the contest. With two minutes left on the clock, Petri Kontiola lost a battle against Evgeni Malkin in along the boards. Malkin then got it over to Sergei Mozyakin at the slot, who fired a hard shot past Pekka Rinne, who was screened in front due to Nikolai Kulemin creating havoc in front.

The goal wasn’t what the Finns were hoping for, but a final minute travesty really got them upset. In a call that will surely prove to be controversial for a while, Leo Komarov clipped Evgeni Medvedev in the shoulder, injuring Medvedev in the process. It looked like a fair hit, with a two minute elbowing penalty maybe at the most. After a bit of delay, the referees decided to award Komarov a five minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing, something most fans in attendance were surely not agreeing with. The Finns were very furious about the call, but in the end, there was nothing they can do about it.

After killing off the five minute penalty, with some big saves by Rinne and some helpful blocks from Topi Jaakola and Ossi Louhivaara, the Finns would get a power-play of their own. With Artem Anismiov in the box, Janne Pesonen took a shot that got lost in Anton Belov’s skates. Belov couldn’t get control of it, but Alexsander Barkov was right there to jam home the puck between Sergei Bobrovsky’s legs for the 1-1 goal.

The game would remain tied for a good portion up until the the 55 minute mark of the third. After Artemiy Panarin created the play to start, Evgeni Dadonov got a chance to bat the puck in in front of the net, only to get stopped by Rinne. Fortunately for the Russians, Panarin was right there to knock in the rebound, pushing it past the Finnish netminder to take the 2-1 lead late in the game.

The goal gave the Russians some life, but it would be Finland who would tie the game up with less than two minutes to go. After Barkov took a shot towards the net, Joonas Donskoi would pick up the puck in front of the net before spinning and deking Bobrovsky for the 2-2 goal. Donskoi has been very clutch for the Finns over the past few games, scoring huge goals late against Slovakia and Belarus over the past two games before potting in the tying marker late on Tuesday.

The game would head to the shootout, giving fans some more incredible action to finish off the day. Bobrovsky stole the show during overtime, making two incredible diving saves with over a minute to go to help send the game off to the shootout. In the skills competition, Donskoi, of course, would score the game winning goal on his second shot attempt, beating Bobrovsky with a quick deke through the five hole. At the other end, the Czech’s would look to force the shootout to go a little longer, but two absolutely outstanding stops by Rinne meant that the Finns would win the game 3-2.

With the victory, Finland will have a meeting with the Czech’s in the late game on Thursday, a 2pm EST start in Prague. Over in Ostrava, Russia and Sweden will fight it out in a battle between the previous two gold medal champions, a game that should be great all the way down to the wire.

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The preliminary round of the World Championships ended on Tuesday with the Czech Republic taking the 2-1 win in the shootout over the Swiss.

For both teams, all this game really meant was that they both had chances to pad their stats and warm up for their quarter-final matches. Both teams really were curious about the results of the Finland vs Russia game in Ostrava, with the loser of that game taking on the

The Swiss were hungry early on, and despite a few missed opportunities, they’d get a chance to capitazlie on the power-play. Minutes after Andreas Ambuhl missed an empty net from just outside the crease, Kevin Fiala took a cross-ice pass from Damien Brunner and found a way to get it past Ondrej Pavelec for the 1-0 goal before the end of the first.

The second period saw no scoring, but it did see its fair share of scoring chances. Switzerland was going for the best possible game they could have, as they knew the Americans were going to be the favourites on Thursday afternoon during the quarter-finals. After two periods of play, the Swiss led the shot count 19-18, with both goaltenders making 18 saves for solid performances at each end. For Reto Berra, it was a nice little turn around after allowing seven goals against Canada on the weekend.

The third period had a few good chances, but for the most part, both teams were just trying to keep their guys from getting any injuries before the quarter-finals. That didn’t stop the Czech’s from tying the game up with time running out, as Martin Zatovic would fire a blast over Berra’s shoulder for the 1-1 goal.

The game would require extra time to find the victor. A penalty mid-way through overtime for the Swiss didn’t seem to play much of an impact, limiting the Czech’s scoring chances with the extra man. After nobody decided to score in the overtime, Michal Vondrka scored the game-winning goal for the Czech Republic in a shootout to give his team the come-from-behind victory, defeating the Swiss 2-1 to finish off the preliminary round.

With the win, the Czech’s will have a meeting with Finland in the quarter-finals on Thursday. For Switzerland, who already knew about their opponent earlier today, will face the Americans in a chance to play for another medal, two years after their silver against Sweden.

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After what can only be considered one of the best hockey games of the year, France and Latvia will stay alive and Austria will sent back to Division IA after the French were able to take down the Latvians 3-2 in the shootout.

Neither Latvia or France have been able to score a lot in this tournament. For Latvia, the team only had nine goals in six games heading into the tournament, with Kaspars Daugavins scoring four of them. So, by that account, it was kind of fitting when Daugavins took a pass from a mishandle by Lauris Darzins from the slot, firing it past Cristobal Huet for the 1-0 goal at the halfway point of the first.

For the French, scoring hasn’t been much better. Just like with Daugavins, who had mow scored five of the ten Latvian goals, Damien Fleury has scored on 50% of France’s goals, which also happened to be ten. Antoine Roussel, an the only current NHLer on the roster, has been silent all tournament long, scoring zero goals while adding 34 penalty minutes. He did have a very good chance to score near the end of the period, tipping a pass from Fleury towards the net. Unfortunately for him, his snake bitten tournament would continue, just hitting the post before losing control of the rebound.

France would find themselves down in a big hole early in the second. 1:40 into the period, Fleury found himself in the box after knocking into a Latvian defender in an attempt to avoid him during a play. It may not have been intentional, at least from the look of it, but the ref’s decided that it was worthy of a charging penalty. On the power-play, defenseman Guntis Galvins blew a fast one over Huet’s glove hand to make it 2-0 Latvia. It was just their third shot of the game after 23 minutes of play, and all three of them happened to come on the power-play, showing an inability to control the game while playing even strength.

Despite being down on the scoreboard, the French did have a solid second period. Thanks to three Latvian penalties, France would eventually end the period with ten shots, giving them a 22-7 advantage after 40 minutes. It wasn’t until the 34th minute of the game that the Latvians were even able to record a shot while playing even strength, meaning that France was doing a good job at limiting the quality chances. Edgars Masaļskis was huge during that time, making 22 saves as the Latvians would take the 2-0 lead heading into the third and most important period.

The third period was massive. For both teams, a loss in regulation would result in relegation. With France trailing 2-0, they obviously needed to have a huge period to catch up and avoid heading back down to Division IA for the first time since 2007.

Somebody other than Fleury was going to have to score, and finally, with over 11 minutes left in the third, France would score. Of course, Fleury had something to do with it, creating the original rush and taking the shot that Masalskis deflected right in the air. The Latvian netminder made a big save on the play, but the puck found its way onto Stephane Da Costa’s stick, who banged in the rebound from a few feet in for the 2-1 goal. It was Da Costa’s first goal of the tournament, as the former Ottawa Senator missed three games in the tournament due to injury problems.

The enormous offensive pressure put on by the French would turn the game completely around. With 4:40 left, Sacha Treille kept the puck in the zone long enough to allow Kevin Hecquefeuille to get a chance around the net. Instead, the puck went right back to Treille, whose long shot from the blue line tipped right off the blocker and in to tie the game up late.

After Masalskis made a huge save on Julien Desrosiers in the dying seconds of regulation, the game would require overtime. In the overtime, both teams had some incredible scoring chances, starting with a wraparound attempt by Kristaps Sotnieks that hit the post. At the other end, Hecquefeuille just lost a handle after trying to tip in a goal, extending the game even further. Da Costa had a splendid chance right before the buzzer rang to signal the end of overtime, getting stopped by Masalskis’ shoulder before slightly tapping the post on the rebound.

Austria’s hopes and dreams all relied on the shootout. If Latvia won, France would go down. If the French won, Austria wouldn’t be fans of the Latvians. All three French shooters would find the back of the net, while Latvia’s one goal past Huet wouldn’t be good enough as Da Costa would once again find the back of the net to win 3-2 and save France from relegation.

After an incredible week and a half of action, Latvia and France will stay alive, while Austria will go back to Division IA. It will be the sixth time since 2005 that Austria will find themselves heading back to the second best group, earning instant promotion every single year they’ve participated in it. In their place will come Kazakhstan, who went 5-0 at the DIA tournament this year after getting relegated a year prior.

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