Battle for pole position

Four teams can still win their group

31.12.2009
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Credit Union Centre Saskatoon Saskatchewan Canada

Many goals have yet to be scored on the last Preliminary Round day as four teams can still win their group. Photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images

The last games of the Preliminary Round will be played on New Year’s Eve. IIHF.com takes a look at what the teams can achieve that day – and what they’ll try to avoid.

By the evening it will be known which three teams from each group will advance to the Playoff Round. Meanwhile, the two lowest-ranked teams from each group will play in the Relegation Round, carrying over the points and goals from their mutual games to the Relegation Round standings.

The top-seeded team from each group will receive an automatic bye into the semi-finals. The second- and third-place teams from the Preliminary Round will play a cross-over quarterfinal game. The winner of each quarterfinal moves onto the semi-finals, while the losers will play a placement game.

If two teams have the same number of points in a group, the winner of the mutual game will be ranked ahead of the other team.

If three teams are tied in points, a sub-ranking with their head-to-head games will be created and the teams will be sorted by the following criteria: 1. Points in the head-to-head games, 2. Goal differential in the head-to-head games, 3. Goals scored in the head-to-head games.

Note: All Playoff Round and Relegation Round games will be played in Saskatoon.

Group A in Saskatoon

Standings as of December 30:

1. Canada 3/9
2. USA 3/9
3. Slovakia 3/3
4. Switzerland 3/3
5. Latvia 4/0

Canada and the U.S. have already established themselves as the top-ranked teams of Group A after three convincing wins apiece. The North American teams will play each other at 19:00 for first place in the group. The winner will earn a direct qualification to the semi-finals, while the loser will be second and play a quarterfinal game against the third-ranked team of the other group.

Slovakia and Switzerland play each other on Thursday for the third and last place in the Playoff Round (15:00). The winner will play the quarterfinal game against the second-ranked team of Group B, while the loser will play in the Relegation Round, carrying over three points from their victory against winless Latvia.

Latvia has lost all four of its Preliminary Round games and will start in the Relegation Round without any points.

Group B in Regina

Standings as of December 30:

1. Sweden 3/9
2. Russia 3/6
3. Finland 3/6
4. Czech Republic 3/3
5. Austria 4/0

The scheme of things in Group B looks quite different. Only two things are certain: Austria has already finished in last place with zero points and Sweden is the only team that has earned qualification to the Playoff Round so far. Everything else is fun for math aficionados.

Sweden needs at least one point in its Nordic clash versus Finland (13:00) to win the group and earn a semi-final berth. Tre Kronor has conquered convincingly in its three games, winning by margins of three or more goals, but the Finns will be motivated against their archrivals.

Winning in regulation time would mean for the Finns that they, like Sweden, would also have nine points. The Finns could win the group – if only those two teams have nine points.

If Finland, Russia and Sweden all end up with nine points, the scores from their mutual games will decide the ranking. In that case, Finland (0-2 at the moment) will need a victory with a three-goal margin to overtake Sweden (4-1 at the moment). Russia cannot win the group because of its negative goal differential in their mutual games against Finland and Sweden (3-4). That means that the Russians cannot finish any higher than second place in any case.

On the other end, the fourth-ranked Czech Republic still has a chance to make the  Playoff Round: by beating Russia in regulation time (17:00).

If the Czechs beat Russia in regulation time, and only they and the Russians end up with six points, the Czechs will overtake Russia thanks to the win in the head-to-head game, and the Russians will have to play in the Relegation Round.

If the Czechs, Finland and Russia all end up with six points, the scores from the mutual games will decide the ranking. In that case, the Czech Republic (3-4 goals in the mutual standing before the last game) will improve in the standings and advance to the Playoff Round, and either Finland (4-5) or Russia (2-0 before the last game) will fall into the Relegation Round.

If Russia loses by four or more goals, Russia will play in the Relegation Round. If Russia loses by two or less goals, Finland will play in the Relegation Round. If Russia loses by three goals, the goals scored in the head-to-head games of all three teams will decide whether Finland or Russia will be the better-ranked team.

Or in short: Depending on the results, Sweden can end up between first and third place, Finland between first and fourth place, Russia between second and fourth place, and the Czech Republic between second and fourth place. This should provide reason enough for all four teams to give their very best efforts in their final games of 2009.

MARTIN MERK

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