2026 Olympic men’s qualifiers set
by Lucas AYKROYD|31 OCT 2023
On 29 August, 2021, host Latvia edged France 2-1 to make the Beijing Olympics. Will the Latvians succeed again at the upcoming qualifiers for the 2026 Olympics in Milan?
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
The countdown to Milan is on. The IIHF has confirmed the sites and dates for the 2026 Olympic men’s qualifiers. Fans are eager to see who’ll get a chance to make history when Italy hosts the Winter Games for the third time ever (Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956, Turin 2006).
It’s do or die in these three-game round-robin tournaments featuring four teams apiece. Teams are seeded by the 2023 IIHF Men’s World Ranking, based on received and qualified team entries. Ultimately, three nations will qualify for Milan (Q1, Q2, Q3).
See here for the full Olympic tournament program.

Round 2 Preview

The action gets underway from 14 to 17 December, 2023. Iceland hosts Group K with Bulgaria, Estonia and South Africa in Reykjavik. The Netherlands hosts Group L with Mexico, Spain and Thailand in Tilburg. And Serbia hosts Group M with Chinese Taipei, Croatia, and Türkiye in Belgrade.
Here, it’ll be fascinating to see which one-time previous Olympic participants might sustain their hopes of returning for a second time. The two candidates are Bulgaria (12th place, Innsbruck 1976) and the Netherlands (ninth place, Lake Placid 1980).
However, in the 2023 World Ranking, Estonia (28th overall) outstrips all other Round 2 nations despite a talent pool of just 105 registered male players. Could a pleasant Baltic surprise lie in store? Or might someone like 31-year-old forward Borna Rendulic, an ex-NHLer and veteran of nearly every major European league, help Croatia (31st overall) to advance to Round 3?

Round 3 Preview

The competition gets even stiffer from 8 to 11 February, 2024. Hungary hosts Group G with Lithuania, Japan, and Q9 in Budapest. Great Britain hosts Group H with Romania. China, and Q8 in Cardiff. And Poland hosts Group J with Korea and Ukraine in Group J.
The British – the unlikely 1936 Olympic gold medalists – are hungry to clamber back to the Olympics for the first time since St. Moritz 1948. Especially since they’ve also secured their fourth top-division promotion in five IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships for the 2024 tournament in Czechia. Meanwhile, the Poles – also promoted for 2024 – aspire to make the Winter Games for the first time since Albertville 1992.
Hungary enjoys the best World Ranking (19th overall) in this round and has three recent top-division Worlds appearances (2009, 2016, 2023). The Magyars haven’t played an Olympics since 1964.
This round could also reflect the progress of Asian men’s hockey. The last Asian nation to make an Olympics it did not host was Japan in 1980. Korea (PyeongChang 2018) and China (Beijing 2022) are also looking to end that drought.

Final Olympic Qualification Preview

This round will naturally be the most hotly anticipated, running from 29 August to 1 September, 2024. Slovakia hosts Group D with a nation to be determined, Kazakhstan, and Q6 in Bratislava. Latvia hosts Group E with France, Austria, and Q5 in Riga. And Denmark hosts Group F with Norway, Slovenia, and Q4 in a city to be determined in December.
Fervor will run highest in Slovakia and Latvia. They made history with bronze medals at the 2022 Olympics and 2023 Worlds respectively and held huge public celebrations. The Danes logically join those two nations as favourites to go to Milan. All three teams earned perfect records at the 2022 Olympic final qualification tournaments to punch their tickets to Beijing.
Yet there is no room for complacency.
Turning the clock back to the 2018 Olympic final qualification, Norway and Slovenia both surprised the experts by securing promotion to PyeongChang. France – a no-show at the Olympics since Salt Lake City 2002 – needs a statement after underwhelming 12th-place finishes at its last two Worlds.
Austria would love a shot at redemption after bowing out of its last Olympics (2014) with a humbling 4-0 loss to Slovenia in which Anze Kopitar potted the winner. Kazakhstan, which has adeptly played spoiler at recent Worlds and has tabled bids for multiple tournaments, craves its third Olympic participation (1998, 2006).
Expect intense drama. 2026 will mark the third time Milan has hosted a major IIHF tournament. The 1934 and 1994 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships – both won by Canada – also took place in the northern Italian city.