The World Juniors was underway last week in Buffalo, as 10 of the best Hockey countries have shown off their U-20 talent at the annual IIHF Tournament. The tournament format went through a slight adjustment a few years ago when they increased the elimination round from six to eight teams.
The current format is two, five-team pools divided equally based on rankings of the previous year’s tournament. For instance, Canada this year is placed in a group that features USA, Finland, Slovakia, and Denmark – it was a foregone conclusion that Denmark was going to be the odd team out. More importantly, with no bye on the line to the semifinals, the added importance of winning the group isn’t there anymore.
Hockey has been a tough sport to conduct a successful draw around recently. At the national level, there are six teams that are above the rest competing for a No. 1 spot while two others that usually hold their own ground. At the U-20 level, it’s a little different. The gap between the elite and average is drastic, as well as the gap between the average and the weak.
Women’s hockey has had a similar problem except the gap was even bigger and they have seemed to rectify it over the years with the four best teams in one group and the next four in Group B.
Maybe it’s time for the men to learn something from the women for once?
In a totally revamped IIHF World Junior draw, my 16-team bracket would consist of four groups of four teams with each group being sorted as the Olympic Women’s Tournament is.
Based on the U-20 Rankings, this is how the draw would shape up:
Unlike the Women’s Olympic Tournament, where the elimination round berths were split two apiece, these would be divided up unevenly as Group A would get three, B get two, C get two and D get one. If my calculations are accurate, each group would be competitive with lots to play for, with the last-place team going into Division-II the following year.
I will admit, in this format, the quarterfinals might be a bit boring but that would trump an entire group stage that has failed to exist. To add to this, the last place team in Group A goes into Group B the following year and vice-versa for every first and last place team in the group. Games for fifth, seventh, ninth, and 11th, respectively, would be played to maximize the game opportunity in what would still be a December 26th – January 5th tournament.
Finding a perfect draw is almost impossible but IIHF needs to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they’re doing everything to grow the game. The World Championships are a proven joke every year as it isn’t best on best and now this tournament at times has been non-competitive with teams like Denmark and Belarus having -12 and -9 goal differentials through a quiet three games. While this may be an outrageous proposal at the surface, the growth of hockey needs to be higher in order to compete against the nonhockey countries.