After being forced to abandon the 2020 tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic, the IIHF World Championships are back on the calendar with teams descending on Latvia for this year’s edition.
There has been plenty of controversy surrounding its return with Belarus having been stripped of its co-hosting duties for starters, while the pandemic is of course still playing a spoiler role.
Sadly, there will be no fans this time around, with the action set to get underway on Friday in the Latvian capital, in a bubble environment at Arena Riga, which has two rinks. Sixteen teams have been split into two groups, playing seven games in the pool to determine the top four, and those that progress to the next round.
The knockout stages will see the top seed of one group play the fourth seed of the other, while the second seed takes on the other group’s third seed, and so on, with the last team standing claiming the gold medal.
Usual Suspects Lead the Betting
From a historical standpoint, there is no real surprise in the betting with Russia leading the way at
12/5 while Canada are next best at
7/2, but this looks set to be a more open tournament than usual, even taking into account that the last three events have been won by a side outside the big two.
It is of course not unusual that the World Championships are coinciding with the NHL play-offs, but with a later end to the American post-season this time around, the global showpiece will be shorn of even more talent from the biggest league in the world than usual, while the ongoing pandemic has also impacted those squads less reliant on the NHL.
The dearth of elite NHL talent will be most largely felt by Canada and the USA, but Russia will also be missing the likes of Dynamo Moscow centre Vadim Shipachyov, who has finished as the leading points scorer in the KHL for the last two seasons, while also boasting an Olympic and World Championship gold medal on his CV.
Finns Looking Good to Repeat
Sweden have won two of the last three World Championships but they too often boast an NHL-heavy roster and it may pay to look elsewhere, with the defending champions, Finland, looking the best value of the more fancied sides to repeat at
The Lions beat stronger squads to win gold two years ago with Marko Anttila leading the side once again, having scored the only goal to beat Russia in the semis, before netting two in the final against Canada on the way to the Finns’ third world title, while Olli Maatta adds some NHL quality that they didn’t need two years ago.
Expect the Unexpected
The bottom line though is that it wouldn’t be a shock if there were plenty of shocks in Riga over the next two weeks or so, with Switzerland and hosts Latvia, amongst others, offering double-figure prices at
50/1 respectively that should not be sniffed at, although the more cautious might go for a top-3 finish at
Great Britain, who did win world gold in 1936, returned to the big time in 2019 and needed a mammoth comeback to beat France 4-3 to avoid relegation. One good thing this time around is that there is no relegation.
The action gets underway on Friday with Russia taking on the Czech Republic, Denmark facing Sweden, Germany doing battle with Italy and hosts Latvia entertaining Canada, with Britain’s opener coming up on Saturday against the Red Machine.
*All odds correct at time of writing