Should I stay or should I go?

Promoted Division I teams have 50% chance of staying up

22-04-11
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The Kazakh players celebrate after a tight win against Great Britain. They were promoted to the Top Division in 2009, but relegated only one year later. Photo: Pavlo Kubanov

KYIV – Earning promotion from Division I is a big accomplishment, but it’s hardly the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Teams that finally make it to the elite division want to stay there. But will they?

Let’s take a look at the numbers and see what they tell us about the potential future for this year’s soon-to-be-known Division I winners.

The Division I format was instituted by the IIHF in 2001, and a total of 18 teams were promoted to the elite division in Division I competitions from 2001 to 2009.

(For the purpose of this analysis, we exclude the 2010 Division I competition, since we don’t know yet whether the two teams that earned promotion there to the elite division, Slovenia and Austria, will survive in Slovakia 2011 or be relegated immediately. Therefore, we can’t fairly judge the length of their stay. However, for teams that were promoted from Division I prior to 2010 and stayed up, we do count Slovakia 2011 as part of their extended stay.)

After being promoted, those 18 teams made it into a grand total of 49 IIHF World Championships in the span of 2002 to 2011.

At one extreme, nine (or half) of those teams were relegated immediately. They included Poland (2002), Belarus (2003), France (2004), Austria (2007), Slovenia (2008), Hungary (2009), Austria (2009), Italy (2010), and Kazakhstan (2010). In fairness, we should note that Poland and Belarus would not have been relegated immediately in the aforementioned years if it were not for the Far East Qualifier clause that reserved a place for an Asian nation (Japan in each case) in the elite division between 1998 and 2004. And Austria would not have been relegated immediately in 2009 if a 2010 place hadn’t been automatically reserved for host Germany.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the inspirational examples of Denmark (promoted for 2003, nine straight tournaments), Belarus (promoted for 2005, seven straight tournaments), Norway (promoted for 2006, six straight tournaments), Germany, promoted for 2007, five straight tournaments), and France (promoted for 2008, four straight tournaments). As mentioned before, the Germans would have had their string broken in 2009 after finishing 15th if they weren’t hosting in 2010.

Bottom line: the average length of stay in the elite division for a team promoted from Division I is 2.72 tournaments.

So whoever gets promoted should enjoy it while it lasts. Think about the unfortunate Hungarians. After 1939, they had to wait 70 years before finally gracing the top division again, and then got relegated right away in Switzerland 2009.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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