There's a lot going on this Saturday, April 23 in IIHF action, so here's a quick rundown of it all.
IIHF World U18 Championships in Germany
The highlight of Saturday are the two semifinals in Crimmitschau, featuring the big four of international hockey squaring off against each other. It is pretty much a carbon copy of the U20s from earlier this year as far as nations participating, with Sweden and USA finishing first in their groups while Russia and Canada won their quarterfinals to reach this moment. The Sweden-Russia game has the early start, an afternoon game in Europe but an early morning game in North America. Sweden is full marks for their spot in the semifinals so far, overcoming an early loss to the Czech Republic enough to make a late comeback against Canada to claim the spot. Russia, meanwhile, has been relying on younger talent than Sweden, but the upside of these players are phenomenal, and we're just seeing them make their first impact at the international level now. The game is followed by the USA-Canada semifinal, as the Americans, again the defending champions and pre-tournament favourites, are awaiting what has been a very top-heavy Canadian team. While the Americans seem to get contributions throughout the lineup, Canada is dependent on a smaller core of players to shine than they are at the U20 level.
There are other games going on at the U18s as well: the last games of the other six teams will determine official placement. Here's the full schedule:
- Fifth Place Game: Finland vs. Germany in Crimmitschau (10:30 AM local, 4:30 AM EST)
- First Semifinal: Sweden vs. Russia in Crimmitschau (2:30 PM local, 8:30 AM EST)
- Relegation Round: Slovakia vs. Norway in Dresden (3:30 PM local, 9:30 AM EST)
- Second Semifinal: USA vs. Canada in Crimmitschau (6:30 PM local, 12:30 PM EST)
- Relegation Round: Switzerland vs. Czech Republic in Dresden (7:30 PM local, 1:30 PM EST)
IIHF Women's World Championships in Switzerland
The action for today is completely in Zürich, as the semifinals take place. Unlike the U18s, where the quarterfinal winners are playing after a full day's rest, the quarterfinalists here just played yesterday. For Russia, who are making only their second ever appearance in a Women's Worlds semifinal, this will be especially a challenge as they played the later game yesterday, which went to overtime. Russia defeated the hosts Switzerland 5-4 in the extra frame, and are now rewarded by playing four-time World Champion USA in the second semifinal. In the first, we have a rematch of what ended up being a 'close in score only' group stage game between Canada and Finland. Canada beat Finland 2-0, with an empty netter, but the shots were incredibly one sided and only Finnish goaltender Noora Raty kept Finland within reach. It's a young Finnish team, while Canada doesn't feel the need to completely rebuild their national roster with eyes on the 2014 Olympics.
While we should all expect a Canada-USA Final, it'd be nice if we saw some competitive play here. But considering the USA beat Russia 13-1 in the group stage, I'm not too hopeful for much other than another big game from Raty for Finland.
- First Semifinal: Canada vs. Finland (4:00 PM local, 10:00 AM EST)
- Second Semifinal: USA vs. Russia (8:00 PM local, 2:00 PM EST)
IIHF World Championship Div. 1A in Budapest, Hungary
The showcase game here is the battle for promotion between Italy and Hungary, which should be a great game. Both teams have recent elite level experience, and the Italians have more of it, but with nearly 8000 fans cheering them on Hungary will be a tough opponent on this night. What's also interesting on this day is South Korea, who play Spain in the early game. This was seen pre-tournament as the likely battle to avoid relegation to Div. 2, and while Spain could technically avoid relegation with an impressive win today (they'd need to win by a lot), the more likely story now appears to be South Korea earning their first ever medal at the Div. 1 level. This was made possible by Japan's withdrawl from the tournament (Japan had a three year bronze medal run at Div. 1), and also South Korea's most impressive win in their hockey history, a 6-3 win over The Netherlands on Friday. The Netherlands, ranked 25th in the world, were the highest ranked opponent South Korea had ever beat.
- South Korea vs. Spain (4:00 PM local, 10:00 AM EST)
- Italy vs. Hungary (7:30 PM local, 1:30 PM EST)
IIHF World Championship Div. 1B in Kiev, Ukraine
Today could be a historic day in Kiev, particularly for Great Britain. If all the cards fall into place, we could see Great Britain promoted to the World Championships for the first time since 1994. They'll need some help, though. First up, they can claim at least a silver medal with a win over Poland, who are still in the running for a bronze, though they can't win gold. Then, they'd have to hope for a Ukraine win over Kazakhstan, the pre-tournament favourites. Kazakhstan is currently undefeated, but Ukraine has a roster of similar quality to them, and with home ice and the possibility of promotion still very real for Ukraine, it could be a competitive match. If Ukraine were to win in regulation, it would come down to goal differential in games between the three top teams, which Great Britain holds an advantage on currently thanks to beating Ukraine 5-3 to start the tournament, and only losing by one goal to Kazakhstan (2-1). Meanwhile, Lithuania and Estonia battle to avoid relegation to Divison 2 in the early game.
- Lithuania vs. Estonia (12:30 PM local, 5:30 AM EST)
- Poland vs. Great Britain (4:00 PM local, 9:00 AM EST)
- Kazakhstan vs. Ukraine (7:30 PM local, 12:30 PM EST)
Czech Hockey Games - Euro Hockey Tour
This is not an IIHF tournament, but this is the final stage of a season long tournament between the top four European national teams that are held in the international breaks. Russia has won the entire tour, thanks to their opening 4-2 win over Sweden to start the fourth 3 game round robin stage of the tour. This stage features rosters that are at least 'preseason quality' for the IIHF World Championships, with only minor tinkering left to be done for the main event in Slovakia starting next weekend. The Czechs, who opened the tournament with a 2-1 win over Finland, are taking their first steps towards defending the gold medal they won last year in Germany.
- Czech Republic vs. Russia (2:00 PM local, 8:00 AM EST)
- Sweden vs. Finland (7:00 PM local, 1:00 PM EST)