IIHF Cancels Relegation Round at World Juniors

On Sunday afternoon, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced that the World Juniors would not feature relegation for the second consecutive year. In a typical tournament, the last-place team from each pool would be put into a best of three series to decide who is relegated to Division 1A, and the winner of Division 1A is promoted to the top-level to compete at the World Juniors. That won’t happen this year, but things are not as straightforward as they may seem.

IIHF Making Things Complicated

When promotion and relegation were ruled out ahead of the 2021 World Juniors, things made plenty of sense. They couldn’t play the Division 1A tournament required to promote anyone, and logically, relegating someone with no one to promote would be crazy. This year, they have someone to move up. The Division 1A tournament has already been played, and Belarus is set to be promoted for the 2023 World Juniors.


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“Due to Belarus gaining promotion after winning the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A earlier this month, the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship will be played with 11 teams with the aim of going back to 10 teams for the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship,” said the IIHF in a statement.

Switzerland goalie Luca Hollenstein Russia's Kirill Slepets
Switzerland goalie Luca Hollenstein stops Russia’s Kirill Slepets (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

“The IIHF will start discussions concerning the logistical implementation of hosting 11 teams at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship in Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia with the organizing committee.”

Related: World Juniors Home Page

With 11 teams going to Russia in 2023, the IIHF will have to come up with an entirely new format to compensate. The uneven number of teams might mean that some teams play five round-robin games while other play four, or it could mean that some teams don’t have to play one team in their pool, creating an unfair pool. No matter what the IIHF decides to do, there is no correct answer to the problem. There’s only one thing they can do to make it fair, something they don’t seem to intend on doing.

Should Latvia Be Promoted Too?

Belarus earned the right to be promoted to the World Juniors by winning gold at the Division 1A World Juniors Championship, but promoting a second team into the top division would solve all of the IIHF’s issues. Who would that second team be? Well, the answer would be Latvia, who won silver at this tournament.

You wouldn’t want to promote a team unless they deserve it, but this is an extraordinary circumstance. Team Latvia only lost one game at their tournament, and it was to the already mentioned Belarusians. That game was exceptionally close, with Belarus only barely squeaking out a win by a score of 2-1. No, they didn’t win, but this wouldn’t be like promoting a completely hopeless team into the top division for no good reason.

IIHF’s Controversial Week

Canceling the relegation series is just a drop in the bucket compared to the decisions that the IIHF have made this past week. Previously, they postponed six tournaments scheduled for January 2022, including the Women’s U18 World Championship, three additional women’s tournaments, and two men’s tournaments. This caused some uproar on social media, including from superstar women’s hockey players.

Related: 2022 Guide To the World Junior Championship

“How about we reschedule the women’s U18 world championships @IIHFHockey? These ladies deserve to showcase their talent as much as the guys!” said Canadian National Women’s Team star Marie-Philip Poulin via Twitter.

Marie-Philip Poulin
JÄRVENPÄÄ, FINLAND – NOVEMBER 1: Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin #29 during the 2016 Women’s 4 Nations Cup match between Finland and Canada at Järvenpää Arena on November 1, 2016, in Järvenpää, Finland. Photo: Mika Kylmäniemi – Hockey Canada Images

“All Top Tier tournaments should be treated the same. The WJC once didn’t make any money, but with support, TV coverage, and a belief in its growth, it has now become a key economic driver for the IIHF. Postpone U18 WWC and show that same belief in women’s hockey. #solutionsfirst,” said Cassie Campbell-Pascall.

Canceling the relegation round and making a mess of the tournament for 2023 with 11 teams is undoubtedly an issue, but it’s nothing close to the assault on women’s hockey that we have seen over the past couple of years. With the Omicron variant going around, it’s either safe to play or it’s not. While the World Juniors continue, it’s odd that women’s tournaments and the relegation round won’t be happening.

2023 World Juniors Will Be Different

No matter what happens, if there are 11 or 12 teams, the 2023 World Juniors in Russia will be different. The IIHF will do what they need to do to keep their players safe, but you would have to turn a blind eye not to see the importance of the dollar coming into play with their recent decisions. It’s unfortunate all around that this is happening (particularly with the women’s tournament cancellations), but there’s not too much that can be done about it anymore.

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