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IIHF 2019 World Championships PRIMER: Everything you need to know

The hockey playing world gathers once again to crown a champion. Who will it be this year?

Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images

Just the Facts:

What is it: The World Juniors but bigger. More teams, more surprises, more skill, and because there isn’t a strict age limit per se, this is usually the last time you get to see picks one and two in the upcoming draft before they get an NHL team.

Where is it: Slovakia for the second time in their history as an independent country. The cities of Bratislava and Kosice will be tag-teaming to bring you the action from both groups.

Defending Champs: Sweden

Where to Watch: Usually NHLN and TSN have these. The IIHF games page tends also to have some, not all, games in a livestream on their page.

How long is it: Most of the month. Starts on the tenth, goes to the 26th.

Anything Special about this particular tournament?: Other than being only the second time in country history that Slovakia has hosted the event, the biggest surprise of this tournament was who showed up: Great Britain! For the first time since 1994!

Also, as the rules have changed, overtime games are set to be buckwild as they’re 3-on-3 always, and in the event that the gold medal game is tied, they’re not going to a shootout. They’re doing 3-on-3 until we got a winner.

Why are you still doing primers just days before the tournament begins?: Look, the playoffs are still going and there’s some nice, safe, non-stress inducing hockey on in the mornings/afternoon for you while you’re bored out of your mind at work.

The Groups:

Group A:

  • Canada
  • United States
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Slovakia (Home Team)
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Great Britain (Recently Promoted!)

Group B:

  • Sweden (Champ)
  • Russia
  • Czech Republic
  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Latvia
  • Austria
  • Italy (Recently Promoted!)

Group Previews:

Group A:

  • As per usual, Canada is bringing an embarrassingly strong roster as they usually do, with a mix of young and old. Guys like Carter Hart, Sean Couturier, Damon Severson, Thomas Chabot, and John Tavares are there representing the Red and White, this time hoping to avoid an upset like they had last year in the Semifinals. In fact, one of Canada’s major downfalls from last year was a tendency to play down to their competition, and not really show up when it matters, including having to squeak out an overtime win against Latvia, and losing pretty harshly to the US in the Bronze Medal game.
  • Speaking of whom, the USA is similarly extremely loaded due to a glut of american players being out of the NHL/Juniors faster than anyone anticipated: Johnny Gaudreau, Dylan Larkin, Alex DeBrincat, Noah Hanifin, Ryan Suter, some other kid from the Blackhawks named Kane, and topped all off with the Brothers Hughes: probably first overall pick at the 2019 draft Jack on offense, Quinn on defense. Backed up by Cayden Primeau and Cory Schneider in net, America’s looking as dangerous as they possibly can. Bronze was an acceptable finish last year given the state of how they played certain teams in scandinavia (read: poorly), but with a roster this stacked, they should be gunning for gold.
  • Finland has to be hot under the collar and ready to wreck shop this championship, as their bid last year was stymied by the cinderella story of Switzerland. Surprisingly, they’re actually pretty light on NHL talent this time around, but it may not even matter, as they still have Leijonat’s most recent world-destroying winger: Kaapo Kakko. And in the tuneup games before worlds, they wrecked house against teams that they on paper were far worse than, namely Russia. One can expect Finland to not be so giving as they were last year in terms of chances. They want to win and win badly.
  • Slovakia is the home team! And if they had to come up with a group better for them than this one, I would be hard pressed to find it. The other options simply would’ve been an embarrassment for them and that just won’t do. As for whether or not they’re any good or will be contending for a medal?...Well, maybe. GM Miroslav Satan has made it a personal point of his to be in contention by any means necessary and legal, and made their intentions clear by bullying Great Britain in a pre-tournament friendly. Their roster does contain some guys you may have heard of, like Tomas Tatar, Martin Fehervary, Marko Dano, and Richard Panik. The problem is of course...that the US, Canada, and Finland brought out the big guns this year. They’ll have to fight hard.
  • Among the non-powers, but probably the one best positioned for a run in this group is Germany, who will have two very strong x-factors in their favor: Germany is coached by Marco Sturm, and Germany has Leon Draisaitl. They showed that they can absolutely hang by dropping two L’s on Slovakia in pre-tournament contests, and bringing the Czechs on a whirlwind of games that were far closer than anyone would care to admit. That said, they also dropped just as many games as they won, so Deutschland is clearly playing an all-or-nothing game, here. They’ll still kill most of the less experienced teams by sheer power of Draisaitl however, so no dangers of being relegated. Just sit back and relax as Die Mannschaft cruises to a couple of choice wins.
  • Frederik Andersen is Denmark’s bread and butter. He’s not going to be there. Their defensive style better hold up or they’re screwed.
  • France sure is here. Pierre-Edouard Bellmare might not be. As a result, I see approximately two wins at absolute max this time around.
  • I’d like to be optimistic but....If Great Britain wins a game, it’ll be a miracle. Their story this year that got them to the championships was fun, but now it’s time for a bombardment they’re probably expecting. Still! It’s good that they’ve been kicking around!

Group B:

  • Group B is loaded and probably intentionally so to knock at least one of the big powers out of the chance to medal altogether. Sweden, the world’s champion, has a hell of a job ahead of them as they deal with some of the hungriest teams at the tourney. Thankfully, they still have a glut of talent to help stave off the wolves; including the very paid William Nylander, the veteran Patric Hornqvist and playmaking phenoms Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Elias Petterson. It’s hard to say what they need to improve upon...given that they steamrolled everybody, and the closest games they played all tourney were both decided in shootouts that are now no longer an option. Whatever Sweden does next, it’ll have to live and die at how they are at evens, especially if evens means three-on-three. And they’re gonna have to be.
  • ...Because Russia came to this dancery with the intention of causing a scene. Ovechkin. Kucherov. Malkin. Sergachev. Vasilevskiy. Dadonov. Talent galore on offense for the Red Machine. It should go without saying they plan on doing some truly heinous things to the less-good teams on their schedule, and their schedule right now looks pretty easy. Where they somewhat falter on the other hand is on defense. Guys like Dmitri Orlov and Nikita Zaitsev are probably not who you want to plug in against Sweden, but if their offense can come together, they can probably make the semifinals a terrifying place to be.
  • The Czech Republic could very easily feel like they’re getting the raw end of the deal, as while they have guys like Filip Chytil, Ondrej Palat, Dmitrij Jaskin, Czech-league scoring leader Dominik Kubalik and Jake Voracek showing up...they also won’t have guys like David Krejci or David Pastrnak, two players they absolutely would want to have, because otherwise their lineup feels...spotty. Especially in comparison to the two engines of destruction and pain that is the Swedes and the Russians. That said, their high-skill offense is still their greatest weapon and deepest strength, so the longer they have the puck, the longer they can stay in this tourney.
  • The tournament’s big surprise last year was Switzerland, who played several juggernaught teams very tight and won in ways you can only dream about as a young roster. Die Eisgenossen will be coming back this year with a year-older Nico Hischier, a national team staple in Philipp Kurashev, Roman Josi, and Yannick Weber, all combined with Switzerland’s famously tight system headed by Patrick Fischer. Whether or not they can surprise is up in the air, but the Swiss have shown they’ll play anybody as hard and as fast as more on-paper talented teams can and win. They’re definitely a team to watch out for.
  • Norway’s success lives or dies on whether or not Mats Zuccarello is eliminated today. They’re an okay team otherwise, but this group seems tailormade to chew teams like Norway up.
  • Latvia tends to bring the loudest and most passionate fans to the World Championships, and though their roster is...light, in comparison to the rest of their group, they’ve had plenty of luck in upsetting teams thanks to their goaltender, Elvis Merzlikins, who consistently tends to perform well at this stage. He’s technically a member of the Blue Jackets, but they’ve decided he can hang out with his home country. He’ll be their biggest X-Factor.
  • Austria has...Michael Raffl. Other than that, they’ve largely been demolished by most teams in the pre-tourney games. It’s all friendlies and whatnot so I wouldn’t put too much stock into it buuuut...I wouldn’t hold my breath if Austria was on the outside looking in come the end of prelims.
  • Italy is probably doomed. And because Nike sucks eggs, we don’t get Italy’s fun uniforms that made the old Nike template actually look good. We get a crappy version. Life isn’t fair.

Are you actually gonna watch this?:

Yes. A good portion of it, anyhow.

...The hell’s the matter with you?: