BRATISLAVA – At next year’s Worlds, there will be no more Qualification Round. Two round-robin groups will lead directly into elimination play. This, of course, means an end to Qualification Round upsets.
How do we establish what constitutes an upset? Let’s use a very simple criterion: an upset occurs when a “Big Seven” nation (Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, or the United States) is defeated by a non-“Big Seven” nation.
Historically, upsets have been more likely in the Preliminary Round when the bigger teams are still finding their games and when the urgency to deliver wins isn’t quite as pronounced.
In total, prior to Friday’s games at this year’s tournament, there have been just nine upsets in all-time Qualification Round play dating back to the start of the format in 2000 – compared to 15 in the Preliminary Round. Let’s recap the Qualification Round upsets.
Latvia 3, Russia 2 (May 5, 2000)
Belarus 1, Russia 0 (May 7, 2000)
For the host Russians, these results continued a horrifying trend established in the Preliminary Round (they lost 3-0 to the United States and 3-2 to Switzerland). They would finish 11th in St. Petersburg in probably the most nightmarish incarnation ever of the “home ice curse”. Beating Russia was a first for both the former Soviet republics above.
Latvia 2, Russia 1 (May 4, 2003)
It was another chance for Latvian fans to lay wreaths outside the Russian embassy in Riga as legendary goalie Arturs Irbe backstopped his underdog mates to their second win over Russia in Worlds history.
Germany 2, Czech Republic 0 (May 3, 2007)
Dimtrij Kotschnew got the shutout and now-German captain Michael Wolf paced the Germans with a goal and an assist. The Czechs, winners of gold in 2005 and silver in 2006, wouldn’t return to the podium again until 2010’s gold.
Belarus 2, Finland 1 GWS (May 2, 2009)
Switzerland 4, United States 3 OT (May 4, 2009)
A whopping eight out of 18 games in the 2009 Qualification Round required overtime or a shootout. Oleg Antonenko fired the decisive shot for Belarus against Finland, while it took Switzerland’s Roman Wick just 13 seconds to knock off the Americans.
Denmark 6, Slovakia 0 (May 14, 2010)
Switzerland 3, Czech Republic 2 (May 15, 2010)
Germany 2, Slovakia 1 (May 18, 2010)
Here, we see the decline in strength for the former Czechoslovakia when it comes to icing competitive World Championship rosters – although both countries still played well at the 2010 Olympics with all their veteran talents.
But the results also indicate that countries like Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany are continuing to narrow the gap between themselves and the perennial medal contenders. We’ll have to wait and see if they can continue to prosper under the new system in 2012, which will likely favour stronger, more consistent teams in terms of getting into the medal round.