Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The casual fan’s guide to the 2019 World Hockey Championship

The IIHF World Hockey Championship begins on Friday in scenic Slovakia. The annual event pits the 16 best men’s national teams against each other for world domination – and impacts seeding for the 2022 Olympics.

Here’s a quick primer for the next few weeks of international hockey.

The teams

16 countries are participating in the Worlds, split into two groups of eight apiece:

  • Group A: Canada, the United States, Finland, Germany, Slovakia, Denmark, France and Great Britain
  • Group B: Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Latvia, Austria and Italy

Great Britain and Italy were promoted into this tournament after winning the Division 1 World Championship last year. Kazakhstan and Belarus won this year’s Division 1 event, so they’ll replace the two worst finishers in this year’s event.

As you can imagine, there’s a bit of a gap between the strong countries and the other countries. Four countries have historically dominated the tournament: Russia has won 27 tournaments, followed by Canada (26), Czech Republic (12) and Sweden (11). Captained by Flames forward Mikael Backlund, the Swedes won last year’s Worlds.

The winners get medals and a cool trophy, but the Worlds also impact the IIHF World Rankings – which can be very important because those rankings impact the seeding for the 2022 Olympics. A few good World Championships can put a team on the fast track to the Olympics, while bad ones can mean a longer, tougher road to Beijing.

The Flames connections

Five Flames players are participating in this year’s World Hockey Championship:

Michael Frolik will suit up for the Czech Republic. He’s previously represented them at the 2011 and 2012 Worlds, winning bronze each time.

Elias Lindholm will play for Sweden. He’s played for them in the 2015 and 2017 Worlds, winning gold in 2017.

Three Flames will play for the United States: Johnny Gaudreau, Derek Ryan and Noah Hanifin. It’s Gaudreau’s fourth trip to the Worlds after the 2014, 2017 and 2018 Worlds – he won bronze in 2018. Ryan was also on that bronze-winning 2018 team, his only other trip to the event. Hanifin was on Team USA in 2016 and 2017, leaving empty-handed.

The schedule

Here’s a snapshot of the Flames-related games in the group stage. (TSN is carrying most of the games on their many, many channels.)

  • May 10: USA vs. Slovakia (noon MT), Sweden vs. Czech Republic (noon MT)
  • May 11: Czech Republic vs. Norway (noon MT)
  • May 12: USA vs. France (4 a.m. MT), Sweden vs. Italy (8 a.m. MT)
  • May 13: USA vs. Finland (8 a.m. MT), Czech Republic vs. Russia (8 a.m. MT), Sweden vs. Norway (noon MT)
  • May 15: USA vs. Great Britain (8 a.m. MT)
  • May 16: Sweden vs. Austria (8 a.m. MT), Czech Republic vs. Latvia (noon MT)
  • May 17: Czech Republic vs. Italy (noon MT)
  • May 18: USA vs. Denmark (4 a.m. MT), Sweden vs. Switzerland (noon MT)
  • May 19: Czech Republic vs. Austria (8 a.m. MT), USA vs. Germany (8 a.m. MT)
  • May 20: Sweden vs. Latvia (8 a.m. MT)
  • May 21: Czech Republic vs. Switzerland (4 a.m. MT), USA vs. Canada (noon MT), Sweden vs. Russia (noon MT)

If you want to see Gaudreau beat up on France and Denmark, you need to wake up at four in the morning.

We’ll have updates on how the Flames players are doing as the tournament unfolds.