http://192.168.0.12/?id=7896PARDUBICE – Summer’s almost here and the wheels are set to spin as the 2014 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship kicks off in the Czech city of Pardubice.
The tournament is as wide open as it’s ever been. Since Sweden’s three straight gold run between 2007 and 2009, there has been three different world champions in the last four years.
If there is a favourite, it would have to be defending champions and record six-time gold medal winners the United States. Since winning the first two Inline World Championships in 1996 and 1997, Team USA has been at or near the top of the inline hockey mountain, finishing out of the medals just four times in 15 tournaments.
“Our success has been based on coming together as fast as we can,” said 29-year-old captain Greg Thompson, a veteran of five inline worlds. “We’ve been working hard in training camp the last week and a lot of guys know each other from playing roller hockey in the States. We adapt pretty well together.”
“There’s a lot of parity, teams have gotten so much better they’re on their wheels a lot more often than before, and nowadays every country can skate well and knows how to play.”
Perennial contenders on the European side, Team Sweden has not tasted gold in four years after appearing in five straight finals. The other North American squad, Canada, finally broke a 13-year gold medal drought winning the 2012 championship in Ingolstadt.
And you can’t count out the host Czechs, not after 2011 when, playing in the very same arena as this year, they won it all in front of thousands of hometown fans. Tournament organizers, and the team as well, are definitely hoping for a repeat.
“It was a great team back then,” said Czech forward Ludek Broz, one of two players left from 2011’s championship team. “But it isn’t easy, every team coming in here is coming to win, you have guys getting together just two or three days before the start of the games, and with a tournament that’s only one week long you have to work together really fast, especially on the little details.”
Beyond Canada, Sweden, USA, and the host Czechs, the field is wide open. Newcomers Great Britain will join the likes of Germany, Slovakia, and Finland in trying to bring down the top dogs of the international inline circuit. But with Finland the last team outside Sweden, Canada, Czech Republic, or the USA to win a gold medal, chances are slim we’ll be seeing a Cinderella story in Pardubice.
On the Division I side, Great Britain made it to the next tier after dropping Austria 5-1 in the 2013 gold medal game. Look for the Austrians and last year’s bronze medallists Hungary to once again contend for promotion.
But both teams will have to get past Slovenia, which fell 8-3 to Finland last year in the relegation round, sending the country down to Division I after having been competing in the top division since 2003.
Australia has been hanging near the medal round in the last few years, and is aiming to make the next leap into contention in 2014. South America will be represented by Brazil, competing for the first time in four years in the IIHF Inline.
Both top division and division I tournament will take place at the main arena in Pardubice, a city of 90,000 people located 120 kilometres east of Prague. In 2011 Pardubice, a six-time national champion in Czech and Czechoslovak ice hockey history, enthusiastically adopted the inline game when thousands of fans came to the CEZ Arena to watch the games.
With the competition wide open, Pardubice better get ready for another fun and action-packed tournament! The games kick off with Brazil-Austria in the first Division I game and USA-Great Britain playing the top division opener.
All top division games will be available to watch online via live stream on IIHF.com. Click here for the live stream.