Sweden seek hat-trick at 2019 IIHF Men's Ice Hockey World Championship
Two-time defending champions Sweden are among the favourites to win this year's IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia.
The Swedes are aiming for a three-peat — and their 12th title overall — at the annual championships, following successes in Germany in 2017 and Denmark in 2018.
But they will face stiff competition in their pool from Russia, while Canada and the United States, dominated by players from the National Hockey League, face off in the other pool.
The round-robin runs through 21 May, with the playoffs taking place from 23–26 May.
Pool A preview: Battle for third and fourth
World number one Canada and world number four United States appear to have the top two spots in Pool A locked up.
Canada are captained by Nashville Predators forward Kyle Turris as they look to regain their spot on the medal podium. The top-ranked side finished fourth last season, and have been dealt a blow ahead of the tournament with the loss of Toronto Maple Leafs man John Tavares to injury.
Turris is the oldest man on the roster at 29 years old, but their entire side currently plays in the NHL.
The same can't be said of the USA, bronze medallists last year, who are again captained by Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane. The Americans have included collegiate player Adam Fox and 17-year-old development team player Jack Hughes on their team.
However, the team still has a wealth of NHL experience in the side and should have no real problems in this group.
That leaves a likely fight between hosts Slovakia, Finland, and Germany for the remaining two quarter-final positions in the Kosice-based group, with Denmark, France, and Great Britain battling to avoid relegation.
Finland, ranked fifth in the world, have named a highly inexperienced lineup for elite international play and enter the tournament as an unknown quantity. Nine of their chosen forwards will be making World Championships debuts, and just two of the side played in the NHL this past season: 23-year-old forward Juho Lammikko for the Florida Panthers and 19-year-old blue-liner Henri Jokiharju for Chicago.
PyeongChang 2018 silver medallists Germany have named a mostly domestic-based team, with a number of their Olympic medallists returning to the side. The stand-out name on the team is Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who tallied 50 goals and 105 points this season in the NHL.
OAR v GER (Gold Medal Match) - Men's Ice Hockey | PyeongChang 2018 Replays
OAR v GER (Gold Medal Match) - Men's Ice Hockey | PyeongChang 2018 ReplaysThe Gold Medal Match was held at the Gangneung Hockey Centre on 25 February 2018.
Slovakia are without perhaps their most famous ice hockey export, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. The Bruins have qualified for the NHL Eastern Conference Final, meaning Chara will likely only join up with the hosts if Boston does not make the Stanley Cup Final. However, they can still count on a host of established NHL names including wingers Tomas Tatar and Richard Panik as they aim to win a worlds medal for the first time since 2012.
Pool B preview: A forgone conclusion?
On paper, Pool B would appear to be a little more straightforward.
The two-time defending champion Sweden, with the ever-reliable Olympic champion Henrik Lundqvist in goal, are aiming to become the first team since the Czech Republic (1999–2001) to win three straight world titles. The new captain of Tre Kronor ('Three Crowns'), defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, has plenty of experience wearing the C for the Arizona Coyotes.
Russia, backed by a slew of Kontinental Hockey League and NHL stars, also find themselves in Pool B, captained by PyeongChang 2018 champion Ilya Kovalchuk. Their frontmen look dangerous: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and NHL top scorer Nikita Kucherov will all hope to help Russia improve on a surprise quarter-final elimination last year.
The other teams based in the Slovak capital of Bratislava are Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Latvia, Austria, and Italy – and it is hard to look past the first two of those to complete the play-off bracket.
The Cezchs, winners of Olympic gold at Nagano 1998 as told in the Olympic Channel documentary The Nagano Tapes, have a host of NHL-based forwards to count on, including Jakub Voracek. Like their neighbours Slovakia, Czech Republic are hoping for Boston to be eliminated from the NHL playoffs in order to add David Pastrnak and David Krejci to their roster.
Coach Patrick Fischer wants to lead Switzerland back to the gold-medal game after they agonisingly lost the final in a shootout to Sweden last year. A core of the team who played in PyeongChang has been padded out with NHL talent, including Nashville Predators captain Roman Josi and 2017 number one overall draft pick Nico Hischier.
The big question might well be whether ninth-ranked Norway, whose world ranking belies the fact they struggled to 13th in last year's tournament, can produce a surprise against one of the top four in this group.
There are eight teams in each pool, with the top four in each group qualifying for the playoffs.
The bottom two teams will be relegated to Division 1A in 2020. If Switzerland finishes in a relegation position, the next-lowest-placed team will be relegated in their place as they host next year's top-division world championships.
There will be no ties in the Championship, with all round-robin games going to a five-minute three-on-three sudden-death overtime period before a best-of-five penalty-shot shootout.
In the playoffs, teams will be reseeded after each round according to their round-robin performance. With the exception of the final, tied games will go to a ten-minute three-on-three overtime period before a shootout.
For the first time since playoffs were introduced in 1992, the gold medal game will be played to an end with multiple 20-minute three-on-three overtime periods if the score is tied. The shootout will no longer be played in the final — Sweden won both the 2017 and 2018 titles in this fashion.
10 May–21 May Round-robin games (daily)
23 May Quarter-finals: A1 v B4, B2 v A3, B1 v A4, A2 v B3
25 May Semi-finals
26 May Bronze medal game and gold medal game