It’s just getting used to. Finland is now the gold favorite in major ice hockey tournaments. Jukka Jalonen’s team is even the number one champion candidate when the World Cup starts at home.
The sixteen World Cup teams can be divided into four categories:
The favorites – Finland, Canada, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Sweden
The challengers USA, Germany and Slovakia
Dreaming of quarter finals – Latvia, Denmark, France and Norway
Bottenträsket – Kazakhstan, Austria, the United Kingdom and Italy
Russia’s absence opens up opportunities for smaller ice hockey nations. Both in the urban battle and in the bottom layer.
Here is Yle Sport’s ranking of the World Cup team the day before the tournament starts:
1. Finland – the team machinery goes for gold again
World Cup gold 2019, World Cup silver 2021, Olympic gold 2022.
Finland’s suite of success is no joke. On the contrary. For good reason, the Lions are number one on Yle Sport’s ranking and also the betting agencies’ favorite ahead of the home World Cup.
Jukka Jalonens Finland is a team machinery like no other. Everyone on the team knows their role and how to act outside and on the ice. It provides enormous security in tight matches.
It will probably be for tight matches. Finland is not a team that overwhelms opponents with offensive artistry – they rather make sure that the opponents’ goal chances are easy to calculate. As in the Olympic final against Russia.
That tactic has been groundbreaking, but it is not risk-free. The three losses in the Sweden Hockey Games showed that Finland is vulnerable if the focus is not at its peak.
The player body is the same one that was involved in winning the Olympic gold. Mikael Granlund adds cutting-edge expertise in the small-blown attack guard. Granlund saved an entire ice hockey nation when Finland won World Cup gold in 2011 – time for a replay favorite in Tampere this year?
Canada – Second straight in sight
The reigning world champion has an arsenal of NHL players like no other nation. This already means that Canada is one of the champion candidates every year.
Three gold and two silver medals in the last six World Cup tournaments show that the times when Canadians showed up to the World Cup just to have fun off the rink are no longer a reality.
Quite a few of the players in Canada’s World Cup squad are among the big stars in the NHL, but the same could be said about last year’s team that went all the way.
And of course there is a leader in Canada’s team – New York Islanders forward Matt Barzal is one of the most skilled players in the NHL. If he’s in the mood for a game, he may be unable to stop in a big European rink.
3. Czech Republic – order in the croft
Kari Jalonen took over as national team captain in March. The first indications are very positive. Under Jalon’s leadership, the Czech Republic plays with discipline and a big heart. And wins. Does that sound familiar?
The 2024 World Cup is being held in the Czech Republic and the self-confidence of the proud ice hockey nation would feel good about a successful tournament this year. Not least considering that the Czech Republic’s desert hike without a World Cup medal will soon last for ten years.
Does Kari Jalonen’s team put an end to that suite? The squad looks at least balanced and includes both workhorses and NHL stars.
4. Switzerland – highly interesting team building
With determined and long-term work, Switzerland has moved ever closer to the world elite. In a hypothetical tournament where all the world’s best players participate, Switzerland would be an outsider, but in a World Cup, the conditions are not the same.
Switzerland has most of its best players (read: those who play in the NHL) in the squad. As Russia also does not participate, it has a battle situation.
Not least if Nashville defender Roman Josi registers for the World Cup service. His wife is pregnant and that is the reason why he has not yet confirmed that he is participating. Josi was a monster when Switzerland won World Cup silver in 2013 and 2018.
Switzerland is not to be played with without Josi either. Finland noticed this in the World Cup genre rehearsal in Tampere last week.
5. Sweden – is Garpenlöv the weak link?
Three, two, one and there the upset comments from Sweden begin to drip in.
So Sweden is only fifth in the ranking – how do I think there? Well, I’m not convinced by head coach Johan Garpenlöv. Under his leadership, Tre Kronor has finished ninth (!) In the WC 2021 and fourth in the Olympic tournament last winter.
Sweden won World Cup gold in 2017 and 2018 under Rikard Grönborg’s leadership, but then the team in practice consisted of only NHL players. It is not the same star shine over this year’s Tre Kronor.
If Sweden digs out the same team morale and tactical sharpness that Finland has with Jukka Jalonen in the box, anything is possible. So far, Garpenlöv’s national team has not shown such rates – up to evidence in Tampere.
Germany – The return of the HIFK captain
Head coach Toni Söderholm returns home. Germany play their group matches in the Helsinki Ice Rink – that is, the arena where Söderholm held court for many seasons as HIFK captain.
Söderholm’s Germany is a poor man’s version of Switzerland. The backbone consists of interesting NHL plays (goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer and two super-talents on Detroit hill Moritz Seider and Ottawa forward Tim Stützle) and established major tournament players (six Olympic silver medalists from Pyeongchang) and future names like Mario Zimmermann and Alexander Ehl.
Germany played in the medal matches in Latvia last year. The Olympic silver in 2018 gave German ice hockey a new boost – a first World Cup medal since 1953 is within reach if just about everything goes well in Finland this spring. Germany beats the inferior, but a medal is not a laughable thought.
7. USA – low-profile team building
The American squad looks blunt even though the body consists of NHL players. Team captain Seth Jones is the heaviest name.
If head coach David Quinn manages to get the team to pull in the same direction, the United States can be a tough opponent to face. The USA is learning to play a fast-paced ice hockey that can upset the big favorites’ circles.
The United States has taken bronze in four of the last eight World Cup tournaments. Bronze feels like a max bet for this American World Cup team. The wait for the first World Cup title since 1960 is expected to last at least another year.
Slovakia – Talent production underway
Slovakia is finally on the right track again. Slovak ice hockey has suffered from corruption at the federal level and player development has been, to put it mildly, deficient.
The golden player generation, led by Zdeno Chara, secured Slovakia’s latest World Cup medal when they won silver in Finland in 2012.
The peel bronze in the Olympics this winter proves that you are on the right track. The super talent, TPS winger, Juraj Slafkovsky was the top scorer in Beijing and bears a great responsibility again.
The quarterfinals are a suitable goal for Slovakia in the World Cup. If you play for medals, it’s a bang.
9. Latvia – tricky draw
Russia’s absence gives the medium-sized ice hockey nations a greater chance of pinching a quarter-final place. But Latvia has been unlucky enough to end up in the Tampere group. This means that you must place ahead of Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic or the USA in the group stage.
The key match for the Latvians is probably the entire tournament’s premiere match against the USA. If Latvia wins that battle, the road to the quarter-finals is open.
Columbus goalkeeper Elvis Merzlikins is the team’s big star and if he stands on his head, Latvia can reach the playoffs.
10. Denmark – the legendary swan song
For Denmark, the road to the quarterfinals is easier than for Latvia. At least on paper. Canada is the big favorite in the Helsinki group, but Denmark has the capacity to upset Switzerland, Germany or Slovakia.
Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers is Denmark’s big star, but Frans Nielsen is at least as important to the red and whites. The poodle-wise center with fifteen NHL seasons in his luggage has announced that he is ending his national team career with the World Cup in Finland. Trust that Nielsen is tagged to the teeth.
11. France – stars are missing
Stephane da Costa is injured. NHL player Antoine Roussel declined. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare plays NHL playoffs with Tampa Bay. With the three attacking players in the squad, France would even have a chance to reach the quarterfinals.
With Finnish acquaintances Yohann Auvitu, Charles Bertrand and Alexander Teixier (now Columbus in the NHL) in the team, the bars still have enough quality to retain their place in the A-WC.
France’s potential Achilles’ heel is the goalkeeping game.
12. Norway – break in the defensive
Norway has an ungrateful seat. The team is not good enough to challenge the giants in the Tampere group, but still good enough to dismiss the likely punching bags Austria and Great Britain.
Norway lacks experienced defensive players such as Jonas Holøs and Alexander Bonsaksen due to injuries, but experienced head coach Petter Thoresen knows how to drill his team to secure a place in the A-WC.
13. Kazakhstan – mercenaries to the rescue
Kazakhstan’s body consists of KHL players from local Barys Astana. Many of them can be classified as mercenaries. They have received their ice hockey education elsewhere but have been naturalized when they signed a contract with Barys.
The long-term job and his own talent development shines with his absence in Kazakh ice hockey.
Kazakhstan should be able to defeat Italy and avoid the jumbo spot in the group.
14. Austria – seizes the opportunity
Austria slipped into the A-World Cup on a banana peel. The IIHF picked Austria and Italy when Russia and Belarus were excluded from the World Cup.
Austria got to participate in the Czech EHT tournament around Valborg and showed that they will not be a punching bag in the World Cup. Sure, there were three losses but they kept the numbers down.
Austria is a stronger team than the United Kingdom.
15. Italien – arrivederci
The Italian squad looks unassuming. The international matches before the World Cup still give some hope that Italy can avoid relegation. The victories over Austria, France and Great Britain have strengthened self-confidence.
Italy has just over a handful of players in the squad who received their ice hockey education in Canada. Most of them are young and have the home Olympics in Milan 2026 as the carrot.
All indications are that the World Cup will be a battle for survival. The odds do not speak for Italy.
16. Great Britain – so long
Great Britain advanced to the fine room when they won the B-WC 2018. Surprisingly, they have retained their place in the A-WC since then.
Genrepen testifies that there may be a travel pass this year. Idel losses and only one goal ahead in four matches against Denmark and Italy is not hopeful.