PORTOROZ, Slovenia – The IIHF Semi-Annual Congress opens on Thursday when the delegates will vote on a proposed change to the game format of the top pool of the IIHF World Championship.
The game format is the most interesting issue that the congress delegates will deal with on Thursday, Friday and possibly Saturday in this beautiful sea-resort on the Slovenian Riviera.
The current format – which sees 16 teams playing in four preliminary round groups after which the top 12 advance to a qualifying round leading up to the playoffs – has been in place basically since 1998.
The motion to change the format comes from the national member federations of Finland and Sweden, the organizers of the 2012 and 2013 IIHF World Championship, and the change – pending approval – will be implemented starting in 2012. The Slovakia 2011 event will still be played under the current format.
The proposed format has the 16 teams playing in two preliminary round groups with eight teams in each, using the IIHF World Ranking for seeding. Each team will play seven preliminary round games against pre-scheduled opposition.
The top four teams in each preliminary round group will advance to the quarterfinal. The teams who finished last in each group will be relegated to Division I. Teams placed 5-7 will play no more games.
The aim of the change is to eliminate the qualifying (second) round where the host usually faces challenges to fill arenas as the ticket buying fans don’t know until the end of the preliminary round who will be playing.
“This has obviously been the downside of the current format,” said IIHF President René Fasel. “The qualifying round is a tough sell as you may have the last games of the preliminary round being played on a Wednesday, and it is not until very late that day that the fans get to know which teams will be opening the qualifying round on Thursday.”
“This doesn’t give the fans enough time to purchase tickets and it is also very difficult to plan the event for travelling fans,” says Fasel. “After the initial three games in the preliminary round there is no way of knowing when my team will be playing. With the new system all fans know about the seven first games, when, where and against whom the team will play.”
The proposed format will see the number of games increase from 56 to 64. Under the current format it takes nine games to reach the gold medal game. The new format will call for ten games to reach the final.
One open question which the delegates will also decide – providing that the new format will be accepted – is the quarterfinal format. There are three proposals: 1. The current cross-over format, 2. To play the quarterfinals within your group (as the case was during the 2008 IIHF Worlds in Halifax and Quebec City, Canada) or 3. A draw.
As Finland and Sweden will co-host the 2012 and 2013 IIHF World Championships, the format whereby the quarterfinals are played within the group carries the merit of the teams not having to travel from one country to the other to play the quarterfinal. In any case, the cross-over system would be implemented as of the semi-finals.
This format was already tried in Canada 2008, to avoid quarterfinal travel from Halifax to Quebec City.