Well, at the end of today we should know who the majority of the teams that will advance to the quarterfinals will be. Exact seeding will still be unknown, but in a lot of ways, the seeding is irrelevant. In a one game knockout format, the important part is to just make it and roll your dice on your opponent. We also have some really early relegation round games to look at, and the two teams that are going back to Division 1 could be determined by the end of today as well. It's a busy day with three games in each of the host cities of Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia.
These players are all very familiar with each other, with the vast majority of them playing against each other for various EBEL teams in Austria and Slovenia. No one on Austria has contributed much offensively so far, and their goaltending has been atrocious. For Slovenia, Rok Ticar is emerging as a go-to guy on a team missing their only two NHL players, and Ticar was the best Austrian or Slovenian in the EBEL this past year. In goal, Robert Kristan has been nothing short of brilliant for the team. A Slovenian regulation win would allow their federation to make hotel arrangements for Stockholm or Helsinki next year, and would have Austria back in Division 1A to start all over again.
Both these teams are surprised to be in the relegation round, but if Belarus were to win this game in regulation, Latvia will be absolutely devastated to find themselves back in Division 1 next year. Belarus has gotten little offensively from NHL star Mikhail Grabovski, but Andrei Kostitsyn at least woke up for the team against Austria for a three point game. The aging Andrei Mezin is still the key for Belarus in goal. For Latvia, they have played their opponents tough, but have yet to record a win. Martins Cipulis and Mikeils Redlihs are their keys offensively, while Edgars Masalskis has to remain sharp in goal after a subpar game against Slovenia.
Its crunch time for Denmark, who need to win their final two games in regulation and get some help along the way in order to claw back into the quarterfinals. Germany has already qualified, so it'll be interesting to see if they can keep up their strong play given the circumstances. Nichlas Hardt and Mads Christensen have been Denmark's best forwards, while 21 year old goaltender Fredrik Andersen continues to build an impressive international resumé. Germany is led offensively by Felix Schütz and Marcel Mueller, but have been getting contributions from throughout the lineup with nine different goal scorers. In goal, Dennis Endras is starting to look like a world beater behind Uwe Krupp's tough defensive shell in front of him.
Norway aren't supposed to be this good: Mathis Olimb has nine points so far, while Anders Bastiansen has three goals and four assists. Jonas Holøs has been one of the top defenders at this tournament as well, all in front of their backup goaltender Lars Haugen, who took over from Pål Grotnes after he went down with an injury. Norway is currently in the Kosice Group's #3 spot, with a two point lead over Switzerland for a quarterfinal spot. Canada, meanwhile, have had some tough luck against Switzerland and the USA in having to go to OT and the shootout, respectively, before getting their much deserved wins. The kid brigade of John Tavares, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Eberle and Alex Pietrangelo have led the team offensively while team captain Rick Nash has been a bit snakebitten. Jonathon Bernier is expected to make his debut in goal, giving James Reimer a rest. A win of any kind for Canada will clinch a quarterfinal berth.
While the other teams involved might beg to differ, this is the most important game of the day. Finland can clinch the final quarterfinal spot in the Bratislava Group with a single point, while Slovakia conversely needs three points badly. Finland started to get some offense from different parts of their lineup against Germany yesterday. Jarkko Immonen, Janne Pensonen, Mikael Granlund, Tuomo Ruutu and Mikko Koivu are all going now, while Petri Vehanen has been solid in goal for the team. For the hosts Slovakia, their KHLers (Ladislav Nagy, Miroslav Satan) have outshone their NHL talent (Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus), while Jaroslav Halak has been a bit shaky in goal.
This should be an easy game for the young Americans, but France has played their opponents fairly well all things considered. USA is currently sitting fourth with four points in the Kosice Group, just one point ahead of Switzerland. The game against the Swiss on Monday is the key for them, but they can help themselves a lot with a big win here. Derek Stepan, defenseman Jack Johnson and the surprise NCAA star Craig Smith have been the USA's key players offensively to date, while Ty Conklin gave the team a great performance against Canada, earning them a single point despite facing a barrage of shots. France has been led offensively by Sacha Treille, but they'll need more from NHL rookie Stephane Da Costa if they hope to make a push up the standings. Cristobal Huet and Fabrice L'Henry have been good in goal, but its been a little inconsistent.
Join us all day in the comments section for updates and discussion. TSN is showing both the Canada/Norway game and the USA/France game live, while Versus is showing the USA/France game on tape delay. Side note: I won't be up in time for the relegation round games. Sorry!