Hockey tournaments at any level tend to very fun, with teams coming from all over the world trying to battle for a championship. International hockey tournaments are at the top of the food chain, with countries sending their top talents to compete for hockey supremacy.

When it comes to IIHF events, standard tournament formats could be slightly confusing. With the NHL and IIHF using different rules in a general sense, there are simple changes that do hold great importance, with tie-breaking and playoff formats proving to have the most change.

In an effort to help you out before the majority of international events take place over the next few months, here’s a guide to help you understand the basic IIHF format guidelines for most events.

Previous Guides

Major NHL/IIHF Rule Differences Explained

What The? IIHF Player Eligibility Rules Explained

IIHF Membership Structure and Team Eligibility Explained

Guide to Understanding the Spengler Cup Format

The Basics

For every IIHF tournament, there are obviously simple guidelines that are followed for each format. For starters, each regulation victory earns you three points as opposed to just two like every North American league offers. If you require extra time to secure a victory, that only gives you two points, while the losing team will receive one just like in the NHL.

If the game does need more than it’s allocated 60 minutes, an overtime procedure will take place. Each team will play five minutes of four-on-four hockey, with a shootout deciding the game if no winner can be found.

The shootout is slightly different than in the NHL. Instead of having a three-man skills competition where players can only shoot once, teams in IIHF events are allowed to use players as many times as they want after the third shooter takes his chance. Do Jonathan Toews and TJ Oshie ring a bell?

Tie-Breaking Formulas

This could be it’s own article, but let’s label this as easily as possible:

  • If two teams tie in the final standings, the higher ranked team will end up being the team who won the game between the two teams.
    • This, of course, doesn’t matter when the two teams are in different groups, as you can’t tie a team not in your group, even if you’re in the same tournament.
  • If three or more teams tie for the same position, which does happen in low-level events, then they first do team vs team. If one team got the same amount of points as the other teams they’re tied with, but didn’t beat any of them, then they’re out.
  • If three or more teams are still tied, then goal-differential comes into play. That’s why we see these 30-goal games in some cases.
  • If that doesn’t work, the team with the most goals gets the nod, and if that doesn’t work, you’ve got a strange occurrence because it’s rare to ever be stuck in this situation. It just gets messy after that.


Tournaments with Playoff Structure:

Funny enough, there are not as many tournaments that fit under this structure as you think. Typically, it’s reserved for the more major tournaments, such as:

  • Olympics
  • World Hockey Championships
  • World Junior Hockey Championships
  • World Under-18 Hockey Championships
  • Youth Olympics
  • Universiade

In this case, it’s simple. In the NHL, it’s the top ranked team versus the eighth ranked team. It’s not completely like that in international competitions, but for the major events, it’s the top team in one group plays the worst team (that’s in the quarter-finals), and then it just moves along like that for the rest of the rankings.

Then, like in the NHL, the teams move on to the semi-finals in a hypothetical situation like this:

  • Winner 1A-4B (Canada) vs Winner 2B-3A (Egypt)
  • Winner 1B-4A (Mexico) vs Winner 2A-3B (every European Team combined into one superpower

And then the winners play in the finals and the losers play for the bronze. Easy?


Tournaments with No Playoff Structure:

This is actually the more popular format, with the majority of IIHF events playing without a playoff structure. When you’re only operating with 5-7 teams, like every other World Championship event, having a playoff format doesn’t really work.

So, instead, the team with the most points wins.

Let’s say that, at the Division IA World Championships this year, Austria wins all five games they play (which includes all the remaining teams in the tournament). They will get promoted to the top division for 2017. If there are any ties in the tournament, just refer to the above section on tie-breaking.

Honestly, this is a very simple structure, which is why the IIHF uses it for every event that isn’t the top division at any level.

Want clarification on a different subject? Suggest an idea in the comments below!

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

About The Author

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:

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