Q: Germany will get its first World Championship medal since 1953, Latvia could win its first ever. How important is this as we try to expand hockey’s global reach?
Podnieks: It’s great for the game. To have Latvia playing for a bronze medal is crazy. Two weeks ago, no one outside their dressing room would have thought that possible. When they beat Sweden in the quarter-finals, the city went berserk. This tournament might well change the very role hockey plays in Latvian culture as a result of their performance. And if Germany could beat Canada for gold, we could perhaps say the same thing. New medallists? Upsets? Shake the norm? Bring it on!
Aykroyd: It’s enormously important. A German gold medal win would provide almost the boost that winning the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics would have. And it’d be timely too, coming on the heels of the announcement that Germany will host this tournament again in 2027. I’ll take issue with Andrew’s suggestion that hockey might get a new role in Latvian culture: I don’t know that you can “grow the game” much more among Latvia’s population of 1.8 million hockey fanatics! But a great underdog story is always heartwarming. It might not quite match Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016. But if they prevail, it’ll be fun to see how the party in Riga stacks up against the parade in Bratislava after Slovakia got its first Olympic bronze in 2022.
O’Brien: The more teams you have in the mix to win things, the better. Getting Olympic silver was huge for German hockey in 2018 and a IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold would be huge as well. And Latvia? I saw the scenes during and after their wins over Switzerland and Sweden. If they win bronze, I can't even imagine the scale of the parade they'll have. It also shows something to other countries that are just on the edge. We were already talking earlier in the tournament that this might have been Switzerland's year to contend for a gold and it very well could have been.
Potts: The unexpected medal contenders will get the headlines – rightly so – but it’s not just about this weekend. In the minor placings, we saw Kazakhstan with its second-best result, Austria securing top-flight status for a third year, Norway shocking Canada. Who doesn’t want to see tournaments where any team fancies its chances in any game?
Q: Before the start, there were some concerns that these were not the most stellar rosters to coming to a World Championship. However, we’ve seen some of the most competitive and intriguing action in recent seasons. What does this say about the depth of talent in the global game?
Podnieks: The truth is, hockey is a long season, no matter where you play, so general managers putting together their teams for the World Championship are at the mercy of circumstance and are subject to luck, good and bad. This year, there isn’t a lot of star power, but the games have been close and the quality of play still first rate. And we get to see some new faces given a chance to play, and new faces performing incredibly well. Next year? Who knows? Rosters might be better or worse, but you take what you can get and enjoy the games for the quality of play. In IIHF hockey, it really is the name on the front that matters, not on the back.
O’Brien: As for depth of talent, some countries are a lot deeper than others. Canada has long been lauded for its depth and has that ever been more apparent than the past few years? Had all their best players been available, this is nowhere near the best lineup they could produce and yet, look at this, here they are in the gold-medal game for the fourth straight year.
Aykroyd: Regardless of the year, I relish the opportunity for unsung heroes to emerge. It could be Finland’s Jarkko Immonen leading the 2011 tournament with nine goals or Germany’s Korbinian Holzer cracking the 2021 all-star team on defence. Or, as Andy mentioned, Norway’s 3-2 upset over Canada this year, just the second such victory in history. The depth of talent worldwide always makes surprises possible.
Potts: I also wonder if the pool isn’t getting deeper when we look at the countries below the top six. We’ve touched on the progress in Switzerland and Slovakia in recent seasons, we’re seeing teams like Hungary, Great Britain and now Poland battling their way out of Division IA, while Kazakhstan’s performance in Riga suggests that the often-overlooked players in that national championship can be moulded into a competitive team.
Cards on the table time. Who’s going to win the medal games?
Aykroyd: Canada’s history alone makes it the favourite for gold. Canadian teams tend to bear down in finals, whether it’s the all-star roster captained by Sidney Crosby that hammered the Russians 6-1 in 2015 or the less-renowned bunch who dropped their first three games but then edged Finland 3-2 in overtime in 2021. As for Germany, most first-time Ice Hockey World Championship finalists fall short. Think of Finland in 1992, Slovakia in 2000, or Switzerland in 2013. But I expect a tight matchup regardless. As for bronze? The Latvians will be pumped, while the U.S. – although certainly better on paper – may struggle emotionally. I’ll say Latvia.
Podnieks: Canada has to be the huge favourite for gold now. They have overcome adversity when presented with it, as in falling behind to Latvia and not panicking. Germany has nothing to lose and several players have the experience of the big game from the 2018 Olympics. It’s not going to be a blowout, but I just see too much history of winning being too strong for the upstart Germans. As for bronze, wow. The Americans are devastated at an opportunity lost. I think Latvia can win this game, and it would be tremendous for hockey if they did, even though there is no mistaking the superior skating and skill on the U.S. side. Emotion has taken Latvia this far. I think they can make themselves believe they can win one more.
O’Brien: Favourites yes, but I don't know that I'd call the Canadians huge favourites. It would not at all surprise me if Germany wins the final. As Andrew said, the Germans have nothing to lose and from the sounds of things, they're going into the final feeling no pressure on themselves. And after wins against Switzerland and the US, they're full of confidence too. And yeah, that bronze game. I keep going back and forth on this one in my head for the reasons Lucas and Andrew have both mentioned. I don't know if the Latvians will win it but I know they can win it and they they can too.
Potts: On paper, it should be two North American wins tomorrow. But this tournament has been so unpredictable that the only surprise on Sunday would be seeing no surprises!
As well as the medals, there’s a tournament MVP award up for grabs tomorrow. Who’s your pick for that?
Podnieks: I’m looking forward to what the others say because for me it isn’t even close. Arturs Silovs has been out of this world in Latvia’s net. He is the reason they will have their best-ever finish, win or lose in the bronze game. He has won games for them, kept the team in games that might have been lop-sided. He has been a rock, sucking the puck into his equipment like it’s a black hole, never conceding a rebound, never giving up a weak goal that might demoralize the team.
Aykroyd: Other than Silovs, I’ve been extremely impressed with the U.S.’s Cutter Gauthier and his wicked shot. Seven goals on 51 shots – no other player even has 40 shots. And then there’s MacKenzie Weegar, a true blueline general for Canada. He’s the only Canadian in the top 30 in ice time (22:34 on average per game), and has an outside shot at becoming the first defenceman ever to lead the Worlds in scoring. All that said, I think Silovs is now the favourite.
O’Brien: Lucas makes some strong arguments for all-star team candidates but Silovs is the obvious answer for MVP. I can't see any plausible scenario that could play out on Sunday to change that.
Potts: I’d love to challenge the concensus here, but I’m struggling. The only name missing from the above, for me, would be J.J. Peterka, who looks set to be a huge player for Germany for years to come. Not sure that’s enough to grab the MVP vote this time, though.