IIHF World Championships - the view from the stands

Friday, 29th April 2005

With the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships getting set to face off this weekend, guest writer Tambo gives us an insight into the tournament and the key players, and gives us his tips for the top.

Ice Hockey’s blue riband event gets underway in Austria on Saturday and with no NHL play offs to worry about, most teams have their big guns on show in what should be the best tournament for years.

Here is a quick preview of what’s going on, who plays who and some names to look out for.

Preliminary round

GROUP A (Vienna)

RUSSIA - ranked 7 in the world may spring a surprise or two this time around. Coach Bilyaletdinov has gone for a mixture of young and old to try and better last year’s dismal performance in the Czech Republic. Watch out for Aleksander Ovechkin, who was expected to be the Nr 1 NHL draft pick last summer.

AUSTRIA – ranked 10. I expect them to be good hosts but unless they can pull off a major shock or two against big guns Russia and Slovakia, they may be in the relegation fight at the end of the two weeks. Thomas Vanek was their top scorer last year and he will need to be on top form again.

SLOVAKIA – ranked 4. Some say they underachieved last year finishing 4th but try telling that to their huge army of fans who will descend on Austria in the coming fortnight. They should make the second round with ease and top game in this first group will be them against the Russians. Who wouldn’t fancy watching them with players like Gaborik,Satan, Hossa and Chara in the squad.

BELARUS – ranked 15. Unlikely to repeat their surprise of 2002 when they shocked the world in beating Sweden 4-3. This team looks well past its sell by date and the best they can hope for is to catch the hosts on an off day, otherwise it’s the relegation round for them. Grabhovski could net a few goals for them in the group stages.

My tip: Russia, Slovakia, Austria, Belarus


LATVIA – ranked 11. Surely building their team towards next year’s competition in their own country. Had a great tournament last year, reaching the quarter-finals. This group looks too strong for them this season and I cannot see them troubling the big guns of Canada and USA, however they should be good enough to avoid the relegation round.

The ageing Arturs Irbe in goal is still their main star. If he stands on his head then anything can happen.

SLOVENIA – ranked 16. Will struggle in most games in this group and their best hope is to do well in the relegation round. Up and coming star is Anze Kopitar, a 17 year old forward playing in Sweden.

USA – ranked 3. They won bronze last year and have gone for a young team this season under the captaincy of old warhorse Mike Modano. Should finish in second place behind the Canadians and then who knows what this team could achieve? Watch out for Erik Cole, not too well known but has just been named MVP in the DEL playoffs in helping his Berlin Eisbären to the championship.

CANADA – ranked 1. Cannot see anybody troubling them again this year. It’s almost impossible to look beyond their star-studded roster. With Luongo and Brodeur sharing goal tending duties and eight of last year’s gold medal winning forwards on show, this team could sweep the boards again.

My tip: Canada, USA, Latvia, Slovenia


SWEDEN – ranked 5. Don’t expect Sweden to rise above their ranking in this tournament unless they massively overachieve. Well led by veteran Daniel Alfredsson, they just don’t seem to me to have that extra quality to trouble the big 4.

FINLAND – ranked 6. When, oh when, will this team get it right when it matters? Great team to watch but no gold medal since 1995. Most entertaining team in the Czech Republic for me last season and finished a very disappointing 6th. None of the big names appear on the roster as of yet but come game time I am sure the usual suspects will be on show.

DENMARK – ranked 14. Doubt if they have the power or experience to trouble their illustrious Scandinavian neighbours but could give Ukraine a run for their money. Peter Hirsch in goal is going to have a busy first week. Mike Grey seems best bet to nick a goal for the Danes.

UKRAINE – ranked 12. Seeded 3 in this group, they should achieve that without too much trouble. Watch out for Sokol Kiev colleagues Karchenko and Matvichuk to get on the scoreboard for them.

My tip: Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, Denmark


SWITZERLAND – ranked 8. This group is all about finishing 2nd behind the Czech Republic and the Swiss game against Germany is the key. Switzerland has beaten Germany on 5 consecutive meetings and they will be confident they can grab runners up spot in the group. Top player is goalie Dave Aebischer who returned to his native country this season during the NHL lockout.

GERMANY – ranked 9. Could be the major surprise package this season. With a new and progressive coach in Greg Poss, they have thrown away their boring defensive structure and should be much better to watch this time around. They will miss Olaf Kolzig in goal but up and coming youngster Robert Muller should be an able deputy. Most hopes rest on NHL veteran Jochen Hecht who has just had an outstanding season with Mannheim. Key game is the Swiss match up, Germany are due a win in this one.

KAZAKHSTAN – ranked 13. Not expected to trouble the other 3 in this group and really look like the make-weights. They will be keying on a good relegation round to maintain their ranking. A lot will rest on goalie Vitali Yeremeyev.

CZECH REPUBLIC – ranked 2. For me this is the one team that can severely test Canada’s domination. They look strong all the way through the roster and as long as they stay focused I would expect a Canada – Czech Republic final come the second week in May. Good solid goal tending in Vokoun is ably supported by defensive pairing Kubina and Kaberle. They will miss the skills of Hejduk who is recovering from knee surgery but will still impress with the evergreen Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka.

My tip: Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Kazakhstan.


So get the beers in, sit back and enjoy a hockey fest! Sports channel NASN are showing five games in the first week starting on Saturday with Latvia versus Canada, and the IIHF run a very good live update service throughout the tournament.

I will be posting brief reports during the championship to keep you hockey-starved people up to date!


P.S. Don’t pay too much attention to my predictions, if I was any good at it I would have won the lottery and been reporting live from Vienna !!

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