International Ice Hockey Federation

Another elevator ride?

Another elevator ride?

Six teams battle for spot in Russia 2016

Published 19.04.2015 08:50 GMT+2 | Author Martin Merk
Another elevator ride?
Who will take the elevator ride to the top division? Six teams battle for promotion at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Krakow. Photo: Matthew Murnaghan / HHOF-IIHF Images
At the 15,328-seat Tauron Arena Krakow six teams will battle for promotion and a ticket to Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2016 – only two will make it.

The big question like every year is whether the elevator ride at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A will continue with the usual teams or whether one of the other four participants can break the pattern.

Almost unbelievable but since 2010 it has always been the same teams that earned promotion just to be relegated the year after. Austria and Slovenia went up in even years in 2010, 2012 and 2014 while Italy and Kazakhstan were promoted in odd years, 2011 and 2013.

Also the relegated teams have been the same since 2010, which means that Italy and Kazakhstan, who finished their groups in Minsk 2014 in last place, will be the two favourites when the Division I Group A will be opened in Krakow on Sunday.

Italy comes to Krakow after a season of change. First the Italians approached Lou Vairo when looking for a coach but the former Team USA coach stayed with USA Hockey and will be in Krakow as a consultant. Then Ivano Zanatta was coaching the Italian national team in autumn also to have more of a background role in Krakow. The new bench boss is Bolzano-born Stefan Mair, who was once coaching the Italian U18 national team and was coaching the Schwenninger Wild Wings in Germany for the last three years until being released in November.

The Italians originally announced to work on a team made of players developed in Italy. Although the roster still includes four players born in Canada, Italy came to Krakow with 13 returnees from last year’s team but also six rookies to rejuvenate the squad.

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Kazakhstan enters the competition with the team that has most experience on the highest level. 13 players come from Kazakh KHL team Barys Astana and also Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev plays in the KHL for Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod. 14 players return from last year’s team including nine veterans over the age of 30 led by 1979-born Fyodor Polishuk as the most experienced player. But also the Kazakhs use the opportunity to work with a younger generation and several younger players.

This season the team is coached by Andrei Nazarov. He was coaching Donbass Donetsk and the Ukrainian national team last year but since the KHL team didn’t play this season due to the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, Nazarov landed the job with Barys Astana and now also took over the Kazakh national team.

Among the players missing on the team is former NHLer Nikolai Antropov, who captained last year’s team and would have had to serve a two-game suspension in Krakow.

So who can challenge the two “elevator teams” and go to the 2016 Worlds in Russia in their place?

Japan has been trying to get back to the top division for many years and has never been as close as last year. They upset Slovenia in a 2-1 opening-day upset and had a 3-1 record after four days only losing to Austria. But when they needed the extra points on the last day, the Japanese blew a 4-3 lead with 66 seconds left in regulation time against Hungary and lost the game – and the ticket to the top division – in a shootout.

Most players come from Japanese teams but this season there were also some players who tried it abroad. Yutaka Fukufuji, the only Japanese to play an NHL game, played in Denmark for Esbjerg Energy along with defenceman Shinya Yanadori, and 19-year-old forward Yushiroh Hirano spent the season in the top Swedish U20 league with Tingsryds AIF.

The quick and agile Japanese will meet the Hungarians on Day 1 this time and the game may already give an indication which of the two teams may have more potential to cause an upset.

Hungary coach Rich Chernomaz made clear that his team’s goal is gold and to get back to the top division after having made it there in 2009 for the first time in 70 years. Many Hungarian fans are expected to travel to Krakow where they get an own sector at the arena and hope that this time the dream of promotion will come true.

However, Hungary will have to start without one of its best forwards. After a kneeing incident in a game with his German club team Krefeld Pinguine, the DEL disciplinary committee suspended Istvan Sofron for three games of which he served one when his team lost the series of the first round in the playoffs.

In accordance with IIHF Bylaws 406.4 and 1103, Sofron will therefore be suspended for Hungary’s first two games of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A, against Japan and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine is another team in the mix. Promoted back to the group for 2014, the Ukrainians finished in fourth place last year. But since then things have changed. The country and hockey is suffering from the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, there is no KHL team anymore. When clubs in other countries had their pre-season camps, Ukraine was left without a league and without a national coach.

Things improved throughout the season. Alexander Godynyuk, one of the best players of the Ukrainian national team in the ‘90s, took over the coaching position of the national team. And after clubs suffered from dwindling funding, a four-team league started in February that was won by ATEK Kyiv.

For professional players that meant they had to find their employer around the world. The national team players joined not only from Ukrainian clubs but also from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Poland, Romania, Russia and the United States. Former NHLer Sergi Varlamov even joined the national team without having played at all.

The big unknown at this tournament is the Polish national team. The host nation hasn’t played against teams at this level for four years in IIHF competition and hasn’t won against any of the participating teams since 2007 when they beat Kazakhstan.

The team coached by former national team player Jacek Plachta includes many players who have been on the national team for many years including former Cracovia Krakow player Leszek Laszkiewicz, who will play his 18th World Championship event for Poland. He’s the only player remaining from the team that played in the top division in 2002 in Sweden.

Most of the players come from the Polish league with a few exceptions such as 23-year-old forward Aron Chmielewski, who moved to play in the Czech Extraliga for this year, while Tomasz Malasinski played in Great Britain.

Although going from sixth-seeded team to a place for promotion would be a major upset, Poland, which regularly played in the top division and at the Olympics until 1992, shows its ambitions by hosting the event in the country’s newest and biggest indoor arena. And the Poles hope they are not just here to stay but to surprise the world.


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