The preliminary round of the World Championships has concluded. This year’s tournament produced upsets, first-time victories and storylines that will be remembered for a long time. With the lack of NHL stars in attendance, the competition was balanced, which led to surprising moments throughout. Here are four surprises that stood out.
Canada Sneaks in to the Playoff
It took a regulation loss by Latvia for Canada to make the playoff round in what has been a disappointing tournament so far. Their tournament included losses to Latvia, Germany, USA and Finland. After finishing fourth in Group B, Canada now must take on the ROC (Russia) in the first round. It could be a short tournament for Canada as the ROC have shown game after game why they are one of the best teams in this tournament.
The issue with Canada is they have no balance throughout their lineup. Connor Brown had 10 points, Adam Henrique had nine, and Andrew Mangiapane had eight despite only playing in the last four games. The next highest player was Maxime Comtois with three. You can not win when you play one-line hockey. They had a 7.09 shooting percentage, which ranked second to last in the tournament, and their power play converted four times on 26 attempts. The goaltending was average at best, so Canada really did not deserve to make it through. As mentioned, if Mangiapane did not recover from his injury and save this team, it would have been a disastrous finish.
A Historical Bad Tournament for Sweden
For the first time since the knockout stage was introduced in 1992, Sweden did not make it past the preliminary round. This was also the first year they were not in the top eight since 1937. This tournament was extremely disappointing as Sweden ranked fourth in the World before the tournament. The entire team underperformed, as this year’s performance may go down as one of the worst in the countries history with their ninth-place finish.
Sweden missed their NHL stars. They just did not have the firepower to overcome that loss. The problem is that every team was missing stars, so they can not use that as an excuse. The goaltending was fine but not great, and the defence did their job, but they just could not find a way to score. The team was third in shots on goal but scored three or less in five of their seven games. They finished the tournament with a 9.29 shooting percentage, but that number was inflated due to a 7-0 win against Switzerland. They fell behind early with losses to Denmark and Belarus and never recovered. Sweden should return to the playoffs next year, but expect some changes to come within the National Team.
The Rise of New Stars
This tournament was special because fans and viewers got to witness the rise of new stars. Despite the fact that some of these players have played in North America or were drafted in the NHL, a lot of these players are not household names.
The first player is Peter Cehlárik. A 25-year-old Slovakian who was selected by the Bruins in 2013 with the 90th overall pick. Cehlárik led the tournament in points with 10 and was the driving force behind Slovakia making the playoffs. Slovakia as a team scored 17 goals total, so he was in on 59 percent of the team’s total offence. He had 40 points in 45 games with Leksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League and may get another shot with Boston next season.
Next, we have Liam Kirk of Great Britain. Kirk led the tournament with seven goals and even helped Team GB capture their first regulation win at the World Championships since 1962. He’s 21 and was drafted 189th overall by Arizona. Kirk registered a point on 69 percent of all goals Great Britain scored. He became an international star in this tournament and should be given a chance in training camp next year with the Coyotes.
Lastly, we have Nikita Boyarkin, the goaltender for Kazakhstan. He helped Kazakhstan to historic wins over Denmark, Germany and Finland and was the story of the tournament. If not for a tiebreaker, Kazakhstan would be in the playoffs. Boyarkin is 22 and was never drafted. He has played his entire career in Kazakhstan and will go back a hero after this tournament. He has good size, lateral movement and never gives up on a play. If he has another spectacular tournament next year, NHL GMs could be calling him with an opportunity in North America.
The Rise of Switzerland
The Swiss started the tournament ranked eighth in the world and finished the preliminary round with the second-most wins. Switzerland is a team on the rise that others should be very wary about. Outside of the one bad game versus Sweden, where they lost 7-0, Switzerland dominated most teams and even held their ground against the ROC. This tournament’s performance shows what dedication to building a strong development program can equate to. This a young, fast team that should find themselves in medal contention.
Switzerland benefited from their stars coming over from the NHL. Players like Nico Hischier and Timo Meier played significant roles in the team’s success. Add experienced players like Reto Berra, Christoph Bertschy and Grégory Hofmann, and you get a balanced team that can be a challenge for anyone they face. They finished with the best power play and tied for the second-most goals scored. If the goaltending can tighten up, then Switzerland, led by longtime coach Patrick Fischer, could have a chance to get their first Gold Medal in history.
A Preliminary Round for the History Books
This year’s preliminary round was special. Almost every game was competitive, and we saw history being made almost every day. Going forward, limiting NHL participation may be the best action for this tournament. You may lose some casual viewers, but the tournament would be competitive every year. Now it is time for the playoff round where anything can happen, and only one can walk away champion.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.