ZURICH-KLOTEN – There is a seldom-used rule that has come into play in Switzerland this year. The country that is the next host of the World Championship cannot be relegated. As a result, Germany’s disappointing performance this year has no bearing on its place next year when Cologne and Mannheim host the top division of play.
Currently, Germany is one of four teams in the Relegation Round, along with Denmark, Austria, and Hungary. Germany and Hungary are in the last two positions, both having zero points after two games. The teams play each other today in a more or less meaningless game. Hungary has already been relegated, meaning that today’s other relegation game between Denmark and Austria, in Kloten, will decide which of the two teams stays in the top pool and which is relegated.
Of course, the rule is in place to ensure that the tournament is as successful as possible. Any event without the host’s participation is lesser for it. The last time any similar situation occurred was in 1999 when Norway hosted the A pool. The previous year the nation was in B pool and finished fifth, but it was brought up to A pool participation as host.
Similarly, Switzerland was in B pool in 1998 but hosted the A pool World Championship the next year even though they would have been promoted anyway thanks to the extension of the World Championship from 12 to 16 teams. La Suisse reached the semi-final on home ice and has been in the top pool ever since.
In 1990, Switzerland hosted the World Championship but was not in the A pool, the last time the hosting nation did not appear in the event. Similarly, at both the 1987 and 1977 Worlds, Austria was host, but neither time did the Austrians qualify to play in the event.
The bottom line is that either Denmark or Austria will be demoted as a result of today’s game. Both teams have factors going for them. Denmark has been in the top division every year since 2003, so it has experience and confidence in this respect. Austria was in Division I in both 2008 and 2006, but it has Thomas Vanek on the team, a star scorer with the Buffalo Sabres and the most obvious player who could single-handedly make a difference in the result.
Both teams have similar records in most statistical categories, but if there is one advantage it's that Denmark can score goals. A hot Vanek, however, can eliminate that advantage quickly. Both teams also have trouble preventing goals, and neither power play is particularly effective.
So what will be the deciding factor? Several things: scoring the first goal; getting a big performance from a star player; staying out of the penalty box; capitalizing on the power play; converting scoring chances. Most important of all, heart. Whichever team plays a solid game, inspired but controlled, will win.