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All you need to know about the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship

Get the lowdown on the sport's showpiece in Latvia as Finland defend their title with Canada and Sweden among the main challengers.
By Rory Jiwani

After a gap of a year due to the global pandemic, the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship takes place in the Latvian capital Riga from 21 May to 6 June.

Finland will defend their title with 16 teams battling it out for the right to be called world champions, and lay down a marker ahead of next year's Beijing Winter Games.

Read on to find out all you need to know about the competition including venues, tournament history, and players to watch.

2021 Ice Hockey World Championship format

The 16 teams are split into two round-robin groups of eight, Group A and Group B.

The top four teams in each group, with head-to-head points the first tiebreaker in the case of two teams finishing level on points, go through to the quarter-finals.

With this year’s lower division championships cancelled due to the pandemic, there is no relegation for the side finishing bottom in each group as in previous years meaning all 16 teams will play in next year’s competition in Finland.

Russia’s ban from global sporting competition means they are represented in Latvia by ROC, the abbreviation of the Russian Olympic Committee, with no sign of the country’s flag or anthem.

Group A teams:

ROC, Sweden (SWE), Czech Republic (CZE), Switzerland (SUI), Slovakia (SVK), Denmark (DEN), Belarus (BLR), Great Britain (GBR).

Group B teams:

Canada (CAN), Finland (FIN), United States (USA), Germany (GER), Latvia (LAT), Norway (NOR), Italy (ITA), Kazakhstan (KAZ).

2021 Ice Hockey World Championship venues

The tournament was originally scheduled to be held in both Latvia and Belarus, but security concerns caused by civil and political unrest in the latter prompted a change of plan.

Now Latvia’s capital Riga is the sole host, making a ‘bubble’ easier to implement, with all 16 teams staying in the same hotel and two playing arenas being used.

The main venue is Arena Riga which holds up to 14,500 spectators, although there will be no fans admitted due to COVID-19 protocols.

Arena Riga will hold all games in Group B plus two quarter-finals and every game from the semi-finals onward.

The smaller 6,000-capacity Olympic Sports Centre, literally across the road, will stage all games in Group A plus two quarter-finals.

Ice Hockey World Championship history

The first ice hockey Olympic tournament, at the 1920 Antwerp (Summer) Olympic Games, also counted as the sport’s first world championship.

Ice hockey at the 1924 and 1928 Winter Games also doubled up as the World Championship with the first standalone ice hockey World Championship taking place in 1930.

The competition was then held annually, except a gap from 1940-46 due to World War II, with the Winter Olympics continuing to be that year’s World Championship until Grenoble 1968.

Canada won 15 out of 20 events before the Soviet Union claimed its first title in 1954.

There was a decade of close competition between the two nations and the United States, Sweden and Czechoslovakia before the Soviet ‘Red Machine’ reeled off nine consecutive titles from 1963-1971 including two Olympic golds.

Czechoslovakia ended that run with their third world crown in 1972, and those two nations dominated until Sweden’s fourth success in 1987.

The Soviet Union claimed the last of their 22 titles in 1990 with Russia making a winning debut in 1993. The Czech Republic took bronze that year in their first Worlds since the breakup of Czechoslovakia before taking victory in 1996.

Finland scored their first world title triumph in 1995 and have established themselves as one of the sport’s ‘Big Six’ alongside Canada, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and the United States, although the USA’s last final was back in 1960 when they took gold at the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.

Only two other nations have been world champions – Great Britain thanks to their victory at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics, and Slovakia’s stunning success in 2002.

The Slovaks had to start their international career in Pool C, with the Czech Republic in Pool A due to them supplying more players to the former Czechoslovakia, but quickly moved up to the top tier before losing in the 2000 final to their Czech neighbours.

Two years later, having been without most of their NHL stars at the Salt Lake City 2002 Games, Miroslav Satan led the side to victory in Sweden with Peter Bondra scoring the winner against Russia with 1:40 remaining.

2021 Ice Hockey World Championship players to watch

With the NHL regular season finishing just 10 days before the start of the World Championship, plus possible flight and quarantine restrictions, there is considerable doubt over who will be available to play in Riga.

The 26-man U.S. roster includes 18 players taking part in the NHL this season: among them, San Jose Sharks forward Ryan Donato and all three goalies (Jake Oettinger - Dallas Stars, Cal Petersen - Los Angeles Kings, Anthony Stolarz - Anaheim Ducks).

PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist Ilya Kovalchuk is set to return to the NHL next season after cancelling his contract with KHL Gagarin Cup winners Avangard, but a tilt at a third world title with ROC could be on the cards before then.

With the Chicago Blackhawks out of playoff contention, reigning champions Finland will definitely be able to call on Kevin Lankinen whose goaltending heroics helped them to glory in the Slovak capital Bratislava in 2019.

Lankinen has recorded two shutouts in his rookie season at Chicago, and the 26-year-old looks set to be a top goalie for many years to come.

Blackhawks star Patrick Kane has captained the USA at the last two World Championships and the 2018 Tournament MVP is in contention to do so again, with Dominik Kubalik ready to lead the Czech Republic’s challenge in Riga.

The Czechs also boast Filip Hronek, named Best Defenceman at the 2019 World Championship, and Detroit Red Wings team-mate Jakub Vrana who won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals.

Defenceman John Klingberg will bid for a third world title with Sweden after the Dallas Stars failed to make the post-season, while Vancouver Canuck centre Elias Pettersson is another survivor from Sweden’s 2018 triumph.

2021 Ice Hockey World Championship schedule

Group Play

21 May

Group A: ROC v CZE, BLR v SVK

Group B: GER v ITA, CAN v LAT

22 May

Group A: DEN v SWE, GBR v ROC, CZE v SUI

Group B: NOR v GER, FIN v USA, LAT v KAZ

23 May

Group A: GBR v SVK, SWE v BLR, DEN v SUI

Group B: NOR v ITA, KAZ v FIN, CAN v USA

24 May

Group A: SVK v ROC, CZE v BLR

Group B: LAT v ITA, GER v CAN

25 May

Group A: GBR v DEN, SUI v SWE

Group B: USA v KAZ, FIN v NOR

26 May

Group A: ROC v DEN, BLR v GBR

Group B: KAZ v GER, CAN v NOR

27 May

Group A: SUI v SVK, SWE v CZE

Group B: USA v LAT, FIN v ITA

28 May

Group A: SWE v GBR, DEN v BLR

Group B: KAZ v CAN, LAT v NOR

29 May

Group A: CZE v GBR, SUI v ROC, SVK v DEN

Group B: ITA v KAZ, NOR v USA, GER v FIN

30 May

Group A: BLR v SUI, SWE v SVK

Group B: ITA v CAN, FIN v LAT

31 May

Group A: CZE v DEN, ROC v SWE

Group B: USA v GER, NOR v KAZ

1 June

Group A: SUI v GBR, SVK v CZE, ROC v BLR

Group B: CAN v FIN, ITA v USA, GER v LAT

Playoff round

3 June

Quarter-finals

5 June

Semi-finals

6 June

Third place play-off

Final