The delayed Ice Hockey World Championship came down to the wire on 6 June, with a repeat of the 2019 final between Canada and Finland. This time it was Canada who prevailed, winning 3-2 in overtime.
The tournament was held in Riga, Latvia after a two-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. But even with the delay, and the absence of major NHL stars at the competitions, fans were still treated to an exciting tournament full of sensational moments. Check out the main results and the most interesting stories from the championship in Latvia.
A championship of surprises
There were shocks almost every day in the first week of the tournament in Riga. Who would have guessed that Canada would start with three straight losses and almost be knocked out in the group stages? In the first game, hosts Latvia beat Canada 2-0 for their first-ever victory over ice hockey's founding fathers.
The Canadians followed up that disappointing performance with a 5-1 loss to the USA and a 3-1 defeat to Germany.
"Three straight losses from Canada, you don't expect that. We've got to make sure we're ready to come back. We've got to win out. We've got to go 4-for-3, and then we'll see what happens from there."
– Team Canada coach Gerard Gallant, as quoted by the IIHF website.
Canada bounced back from their three-game losing streak by winning their next three games. However, a loss to Finland in their final group game meant the Canadians had to wait for the result of the match between Germany and Latvia to learn their fate. Luckily for Canada, a 2-1 Germany victory meant they snuck into the playoff round.
The 2021 World Championships will surely be remembered for many 'firsts' in the competition's history.
Denmark had never beaten Sweden at the World Championships before their 4-3 victory, nor had Kazakhstan triumphed over Finland in any competition before their 2-1 win. Considering these shocks, it was somewhat unsurprising to see Sweden, who lost to the Czech Republic and the team of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), miss out on qualifying for the knock-out stages for the first time since 1937.
"It's a big failure for me as a coach and a big failure for us as a hockey nation. We’re not happy with the result, but it is what it is."
– Sweden coach Johan Garpenlov, as quoted by the IIHF website.
Kazakhstan's performance at the championships was one of the most unexpected. In addition to their stunning win over Finland, the team also beat Latvia, Germany and Italy.
Kazakhstan would have qualified for the playoffs for the first time in World Championship history had they won their final group game against Norway, but the Scandinavians secured a 3-1 win to seal their fate.
Britain is still daring to dream
At the last World Championships, the British national team, some of whose players don't even make a living playing ice hockey, won the hearts of many fans.
At the 2019 World Championships, Great Britain (making its first appearance at the competition since 1994) lost six games and were trailing France 0-3 in their final game, before mounting a monstrous comeback to win 4-3 - a win that secured their place at the 2021 World Championships. The Brits celebrated as if they had won the competition itself!
The British team that arrived at the 2021 World Championships was more confident. Besides earning the country’s first victory in regulation time at this level since 1962 (beating Belarus 4-3), they played with dignity against the Slovaks (losing 2-1) and suffered a close loss against Denmark (3-2 in overtime).
Perhaps the most surprising statistic from the competition was that a British player became the best sniper in the group stage. Liam Kirk, who scored 7 goals, is the first player born and trained in England to be drafted into the NHL.
Throughout the Britons’ rise to the top division, the team’s motto has been ‘Dare to Dream’. At the World Championships, they proved that it wasn't just big talk.
“We’re absolutely still daring to dream. When we came in 2019, I felt we were a bit in awe of the situation and were soaking it all in rather than taking the bull by the horns. We were happy to be there, and kind of content with whatever happened. After that, we’re back with a different attitude,"
– Great Britain forward Robert Dowd, quoted by the IIHF website.
No changes at the top
Great Britain and Belarus earned just one victory in Riga, but the main loser of the tournament was Italy, who lost all their matches. The Italians conceded 41 goals and scored 11 (still one more than Belarus, who only scored 10). But, with every team playing without fear of losing their spot in the top division in international ice hockey, Italy can draw conclusions from their performance and try to gain a foothold in the top 16 national teams of the world next year.
The winners and medallists
The fact that Canada barely survived the group stage didn’t discourage the team from making amends for their earlier performances later in the tournament. In the quarterfinals, Gerard Gallant’s team beat the ROC, whose net was defended by Sergei Bobrovsky – a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy. But even one of the most well-known and accomplished players of the tournament - who played in his only game against Canada due to coronavirus restrictions after joining the ROC team following the Florida Panthers's loss in the NHL playoffs - couldn't save them from defeat.
While Canada were able to scrape by the ROC thanks to a single goal in overtime, they looked much more confident in the semifinal against the USA, who breezed through their quarterfinal matchup against Slovakia, winning 6-1. Canada played as if they had no recollection of their 5-1 hammering by their southern neighbours in the group stage, beating the U.S. by a 4-2 margin to reach the final.
For the USA, the wait for a world crown goes on (that's 88 years and counting for those keeping track), but a 6-1 win against Germany in the bronze medal game ensured they didn't come away from the championships empty handed.
In the gold medal game, the Canadians faced the reigning world champions Finland, who had beaten Canada in the World Championship final two years prior. The Finns had won every game en route to the final, save for a sensational loss to Kazakhstan in the group stage.
In the final, the Finns took the lead twice, but both times the Canadians came back to even the contest, which eventually went to overtime. Canada grabbed the golden goal at 6:26 of the three-on-three unlimited overtime period courtesy of Nick Paul, giving the Canadians a 3-2 win and securing their 27th world title.
Canadian Andrew Mangiapane was named as the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship MVP (7 goals and 4 assists).
“It’s crazy how we competed back. We’ve been the underdogs every single game, and we just keep proving people wrong."
– Andrew Mangiapane, speaking before the final to the IIHF website.
Canada's gold medal at the World Championships was their 27th in the history of the competition and their first in five years. Prior to Canada's triumph in 2021, no team had ever lost four games in the group stage and gone on to win the competition. But who will remember Canada's slow start in the history books?
Now, attention switches to the 2022 Games in Beijing - and whether Canada can return to the top of the Olympic podium.