ZAGREB Ė A face-off on Monday afternoon between Serbiaís Marko Sretovic and Israelís Daniel Mazour kicked off the Qualification phase for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Whether these two teams, or host Croatia or Mexico Ė the other teams in the four-team Olympic Preliminary Qualification Ė will make it all the way to Sochi remains hypothetical right now.
Considering the seeding of the four teams, it would be a major surprise. But itís these four teams that will determine the winner that will advance to the second of the Olympic Qualificationís three stages.
Click here for the complete overview of the Qualification Format for Sochi 2014.
No less than 33 teams applied to enter the 12-team menís ice hockey tournament in Sochi 2014. And this is what makes the Olympics so special Ė anyone has the chance to participate. Itís not very likely that any of the lower-ranked nations will make it all the way to Sochi, but the chance for an upset is nevertheless there.
The top-nine teams according to the 2012 IIHF Menís World Ranking are pre-qualified. Russia, Slovakia and the United States will play in Group A; Finland, Canada and Norway in Group B; and the Czech Republic, Sweden and Switzerland in Group C.
Each group will involve a qualifier. These remaining three spots will be determined in seven tournaments.
The winner of the Zagreb event (starting Monday, September 17 and ending Wednesday, September 19) will advance to the second stage and will be seeded in the group in Budapest, Hungary, 8-11 November. Two other events will be staged in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Nikko, Japan, at the same time.
The three tournament winners from the second stage will then advance to the Final Olympic Qualification with three tournaments in Bietigheim-Bissingen (Germany), Riga (Latvia) and Vojens (Denmark).
As Germany, Latvia and Denmark were the top-seeded nations among the qualifiers, they earned the right to host the deciding qualification tournaments that will decide who goes to Sochi. These deciding and final qualifications will be played 7-10 February 2013.
The process for the Olympic womenís ice hockey tournament with 26 applicants looks similar.
The top-six teams according to the 2012 IIHF Womenís World Ranking are already set for the eight-team Olympic womenís ice hockey tournament. Canada, the United States, Finland and Switzerland will play in Group A; Sweden, Russia and the two qualifiers in Group B, the lower tier of the competition.
The first of the three stages will also be played in the upcoming weeks with tournaments in Jastrzebie-Zdroj, Poland, 27-29 September, and in Barcelona, Spain, 12-14 October.
The tournament winners advance to the second stage with events in Shanghai, China, and in Liepaja, Latvia, 8-11 November.
The Final Olympic Qualification will be played 7-10 February 2013 in Bratislava, Slovakia, and in Weiden, Germany.