Tough luck, Germany. The Germans have played decently, but face relegation tonight. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
It's not the most appealing notion for any country, but for four nations, their hopes at a medal ended on Dec. 31 but their tournament didn't. For these four nations, they have to continue to try and win their remaining games, in order to avoid having next year's team going to the Division 1 level. I've said recently I'm not a big fan of having two teams be relegated and two new teams being promoted every year, and would rather just see promotion and relegation happen to one team. For now, though, two of the four teams in the relegation round will have disappointed both next year's team, and last year's team which worked hard to make the top group. It's a daunting task, and it's especially a daunting thought for the Czechs and Slovaks, two traditional hockey powers who have fallen on hard times.
The way the procedure works is that you carry forward the points you earned from your game against the team in your preliminary group, and lose all other points. So if your team had managed to take Sweden or the Americans to overtime, you wouldn't be awarded for that effort. Luckily, all the teams involved earned zero points against the top six teams, so there is no legitimate beefs here to carry over. The Czechs beat Norway 2-0, and Slovakia beat Germany in overtime 2-1. So the standings after one game each are as follows:
We can't judge too much more on those head to head matches, as they all look close on that basis. Today the Czechs play the Germans (7:30 PM EST), and the Slovaks take on the Norwegians (3:30 PM EST), and if both those teams get wins, it could be over before the final round of games on Tuesday. All the games will be at the small Dwyer Arena in Niagara.
Norway is probably the true weak sister at this tournament, the easy game for all teams involved. They've been the most likely team to finish tenth since the start of it all, and about the only hope for them has been a breakout performance from a couple of their Swedish trained players, and a top goaltending performance from Lars Volden. Here's a look at their results to date:
|Sweden||1 : 7||11 : 46||84.8%||0/3||2/2|
|Czech Rep.||0 : 2||21 : 38||94.7%||-1/4||5/5|
|Canada||1 : 10||32 : 43||76.7%||0/1||3/3|
|Russia||2 : 8||24 : 55||85.5%||1/4||3/4|
|Total||4 : 27 (-23)||88 : 182 (-94)||85.2%||0/12 (0%)||13/14 (92.9%)|
As you can tell, I punish teams that give up a shorthanded goal (and would reward them with an additional plus if they scored one), so all in all Norway's PP gets a zero as a result. Not the traditional method, but an easy way to keep track of goals. It's a team that is offensively challenged (4.5% shooting percentage) and gives up a ton of high quality chances to produce a low SV%, considering their goaltending is probably a team strength based on their play as juniors. This is a poor team and relegation is probably justified.
It's been a tough tournament for the Czechs. They drew the Group of Death, and 7th place seems to be the key position in order to draw that fate. The Czechs are probably the favourite to again place 7th, and they'll be hoping for no upsets and a chance to be in the same group as the Swiss next time around in order to prove they can compete in the quarterfinals again. This tournament, they left arguably their top goaltender (Petr Mrazek) behind due to a dispute between his Extraliga club over his CHL transfer, and that may have robbed them of a shot at the quarters. They have to hope that their team is good enough to avoid relegation at the hands of the two Group A teams, Germany and Slovakia, or else the whole policy of leaving out players who have disputed contracts may be called into question.
|Norway||2 : 0||38 : 21||100%||0/5||5/4|
|Canada||2 : 7||19 : 39||82.1%||0/5||2/6|
|Sweden||3 : 6||21 : 45||86.7%||2/6||4/7|
|Russia||3 : 8||34 : 29||72.4%||2/10||4/7|
|Total||10 : 21 (-11)||112 : 134 (-22)||84.3%||4/26 (15.4%)||15/24 (62.5%)|
As you can see, overall the Czechs competed decently against the group, but were outplayed badly by the Swedes and Canadians. Poor goaltending, and poor penalty killing in general prevented them from posting competitive scores, and against the Russians the score really didn't reflect the closeness of the game. I don't quite see how Sweden's coach felt the Czechs were a tougher game for him than the Canadians were, but that's a different issue. The Czechs should be able to get a win against either the Germans or the Slovaks and stay in the top group, but their bad goaltending could make it more interesting than it should be.
The Germans are constantly in limbo. They get relegated from the top group about as often as they get promoted from Division 1, and would be the nation most benefited by a change to only one nation being relegated. They are the 9th place nation of international junior hockey, and are making strides to catching up to the group of the Swiss, Slovaks and Czechs in the 6-8 group. Forcing Slovakia to overtime and staging a slightly failed comeback against the Swiss were not statistical flukes. The Germans could surprise the Czechs and really make things interesting. They aren't out of this quite yet, although they face elimination today.
|Switzerland||3 : 4||35 : 21||81.0%||2/6||3/6|
|Slovakia||1 : 2 (OT)||48 : 39||94.9%||0/6||4/5|
|Finland||1 : 5||29 : 44||88.6%||0/4||3/3|
|USA||0 : 4||14 : 48||91.7%||0/2||3/5|
|Total||5 : 15 (-10)||126 : 152 (-26)||90.1%||2/18 (11.1%)||13/19 (68.4%)|
All in all, not bad for Germany. They weren't completely blown out by Finland, and although they were by the Americans, that game probably had a bit of fatigue (2 games in 2 days against the top two teams) as well as suffering from a lack of motivation, as they knew they weren't making the quarterfinals by that point and the game was meaningless. Overall, they got good goaltending, but that terrible performance against the Swiss cost them big time, and against Slovakia, not scoring on the PP and Tom Kuhnhackl missing a key penalty shot may see the Germans relegated despite arguably being the better of those three teams in those key head to head matches. They should play the Czechs tough, and should beat Norway. They aren't out of this yet.
It's been a tough stretch for Slovakia, who don't suffer from a lack of hockey passion but do suffer from a lack of resources as well as population. The lack of resources probably distinguishes them from Finland, a similarly hockey passionate nation with a small population, as well as emerging Switzerland. Hopefully things turn around for them, and new facilities can help build a stronger national program in the coming years. It was going to be a challenge this year, and certainly the suspensions of Martin Marincin and Peter Hrasko made it even more difficult of a challenege. Now, the key will be posting a win against Norway and hoping the Czechs hold serve so that they can secure that key 8th place position.
|Germany||2 : 1 (OT)||39 : 48||97.9%||1/5||6/6|
|USA||1 : 6||18: 57||89.5%||0/2||4/7|
|Switzerland||4 : 6||33 : 37||86.5%||0/3||1/2|
|Finland||0 : 6||17 : 43||86.0%||-1/6||1/4|
|Total||7 : 19 (-12)||107 : 185 (-78)||90.3%||0/16 (0%)||12/19 (63.2%)|
As you can tell, special teams were a major issue for Slovakia, and probably not helped at all by Martin Marincin's suspension after the second game. That definitely seemed to impact the team, as one special teams goal by the Swiss was the difference in that key game (plus one lousy goal from centre ice at even strength). The Slovaks knew their fate by the time Finland came around, much like Germany did when the American game happened, so we can probably write off the results from that game. But Slovakia didn't prove they were better than the Swiss or the Germans, really, so they've earned their fate. Now, thanks to a strong goaltending performance vs. the Germans, they are in a position where one win against Norway could keep them in the top group, with a little help from their Czech brethren. But this has definitely been a close call, even if they manage to avoid relegation. Marincin won't be available for either game of the relegation round, while Hrasko will return for the final game against the Czechs, but is unavailable for today's game against Norway.
Prediction: The Czechs and Slovaks hold serve by winning both games in regulation today, putting Germany and Norway in Division 1. Final standings will be 9 points for the Czechs, 5 for the Slovaks, 4 for the Germans and 0 for Norway.