Then Covid-19 hit and the 2020 Worlds were cancelled. Last year, games were played in an empty arena, but no teams were demoted. And this year Austria and France moved up with the non-participation of Belarus and ROC.
The result of these events is that several teams will be playing countries they have seldom played in the 114-year history of the IIHF. Let’s take a look at these oh-so-rare matchups.
These teams will play in Tampere on 23 May. They have faced each other only four times previously: 1931, 1934, 1935, and, most recently, 1994, when the Austrians whitewashed their foes 10-0 on the final day of group play. That loss kept GBR in last place, and they went on to play Norway in a relegation game. Norge won, 5-2, and Britain was relegated, never to return for a quarter of a century.
The last time these nations played, bread was a penny a loaf. Or not. Well, the date was 14 February 1938. Great Britain won that game, 5-1, on the strength of a Gerry Davey hat trick. The team went on to the gold-medal game, losing to Canada, 3-1, and settling for a silver medal, their last World Championship medal from that day to this. Great Britain will meet Latvia on 22 May after more than 84 years!
By virtue of being up and down in the top division, these two teams have met only three times in the top division: 2006, 2010, and 2021. Last year, the Kazakhs won easily, 11-3, a result that helped them finish a very respectable 10th. Italy remained winless and finished in 16th place. They also will play on 23 May.
Although these teams have faced each other six times, Italy has yet to win a game or earn a point from the rivalry. Six losses by a cumulative score of 26-13. The Azzurri will try again on 21 May in Helsinki.
At opposite ends of the winning spectrum, they have played only twice, first in 2012, and then again last year. Canada won both games, 8-0 and 4-2, and they’ll go at it a third time on 19 May. Of course, the most famous score between these nations took place on 3 January 1998, their first game at the World Junior level. Kazakhstan won, 6-3, in the game for 7th place, leaving Canada with their worst-ever 8th place finish.
Kazakhstan has played in the top pool only nine times since gaining independence in 1993, and they have played the Danes only twice. Both were Danish wins, 3-2 in 2006, and 4-1 a decade later. The latter score was the final game for both teams and confirmed Kazakhstan’s last-place finish and demotion for 2017.
It might come as a surprise that they have played only twice previously, in 2014 and 2019. The French won, 6-2, in 2014, and five years later the Danes won, 5-4, in a shootout. Fredrik Storm had the PSS winner for the Danes, and he’ll be in the line-up on 21 May to try to do it again.
They have played three times, the most recent back in 2012. The Kazakhs won their first ever meeting, 5-0, but the French won 5-3 in 2010, and 6-3 a decade ago. But here’s an incredible bit of trivia. There are five players from that 6-3 game in 2012 who will be in the lineup on 15 May. Roman Starchenko will be playing for the Kazakhs and for France are Charles Bertrand, Damien Fleury, Yohann Auvitu, and Sacha Treille. Treille had a goal in the first period ten years ago, and in the second incurred a game misconduct for a head-hit penalty.
If certain teams manage to get to the cross-over quarter-finals, more history could be made. Great Britain and Kazakhstan have never played each other in the top division, and neither have Austria and Kazakhstan. Great Britain and Italy have met only twice previously, most recently in 1994 and for the first time way back in 1934.