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MX News Update 2024

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2024 WM: Group B Preview

photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin

There are the favorites and the hopefuls, but in the end Group B plays by the same rules as Group A—a round robin preliminary round after which the top four teams advance to the playoff quarter-finals, the next three teams are finished and ranked , and the bottom team demoted to Division IA for 2025. Herewith a brief primer on what to expect from the 28 preliminary-round games in Otsrava.

France

The French have been in the top pool every year since 2008 but have qualified for the playoffs only once, in 2014. Scoring goals has usually been their Achilles heel, including last year when they managed only ten goals in seven games. Coach Philippe Bozon is back, as are many of the names familiar to fans of the French team—Stephane da Costa, Sacha Treille, Pierre-Eduard Bellemare, and Charles Bertrand. But Bozon also has some newer faces in the lineup in the hopes of shaking things up a bit, notably Enzo Cantagallo and Lucien Onno, who is back for a second WM after making his Team France debut last year at age 24.

Germany

The Germans couldn’t have been happier than last year when they made it to the gold-medal game for the first time since the playoff format was introduced and won silver for the first time since 1953. Of course, coach Harold Kreis is back after his stunningly successful debut last year. He’ll have JJ Peterka up front, alongside Nico Storm and Leonhard Pfoderl. Moritz Muller will anchor the blue line corps and in goal they are rock solid with Philip Grubauer and Mathias Niederberger. This is a solid team, to be sure, but a repeat trip to the finals might be asking too much.

Kazakhstan

Playing up for the fourth year running, Kazakhstan will no doubt be key in on games with Poland and France as a means of staying in the top pool another year. The last place team in each group gets demoted, and the Kazakhs would dearly love to continue to gain some valuable experience at the top in 2025. But it will be a tough road. They don’t have a deep pool from which to draw new talent regularly, and most all of their players come from one league, the KHL. Nevertheless, coach Galym Mambetaliev had his team in 11th place last year, so there is some confidence there coming into Ostrava.

Latvia

Will they, or won’t they? Can they, or can’t they repeat what they did in historic fashion last year? Latvia won a bronze medal, their first ever in WM play, and have been enjoying their podium finish ever since. But now, they must get down to brass tacks and see if they can do it again. They won’t have their MVP goalie, Arturs Silovs, but they will have Elvis Merzlikins. And they will have captain Kaspars Daugavins, back for a 12th WM appearance, and Rihards Bukarts, who led the team in scoring with eleven points last year. Bronze is a tough ask, but a quarter-finals appearance is very possible, and after that—as they know from last year—anything can happen.

Poland

Promoted from Division IA in 2023 and playing at the top for the first time since 2002, the Poles have a simple mindset—beat Kazakhstan or France and stay in the top pool. This is a big question, considering they lost to Great Britain in IA last year. Nevertheless, several of the top scorers in that event were from the Polish team and are back this year—Krystian Dziubinski, Grzegorz Pasiut, and Patryk Wronka—so solid contributions from them would go a long way to success.

Slovakia

The Slovaks missed out on the playoffs last year and finished 9th, so they are hoping for a rebound year under coach Craig Ramsay, back for a sixth season. Ramsay has Samuel Hlavaj in goal and Simon Nemec on defense, but up front it will be the play of Juraj Slafkovsky that could make a difference. The 20-year-old 2022 Olympics MVP is already in his third Men’s Worlds and will be joined by veterans including Tomas Tatar and Pavol Regenda.

Sweden

Any time Tre Kronor plays you know they have a chance to win, but 2023 was a major disappointment for the Swedes, who crashed out in the quarter-finals with a 3-1 loss to Latvia and finished 6th, the fourth straight year they failed to advance to the semi-finals. Sam Hallam is back as coach, and with the 4 Nations Cup and Olympics on the horizon, he has plenty of players interested in gaining some experience. That begins with Jonathan Lekkerimaki, the 19-year-old who will be making his senior debut. Rasmus Dahlin will be the star on defense, which features nine players.

United States

The Americans have been in the bronze-medal game four times in the last five years, each time with a roster about half NHLers and have NCAAers. This year, however, they have only three collegians and a number of young pros with oodles of USA Hockey experience, including Trevor Zegras, 2021 World Junior Championship MVP, Cole Caufield, 2019 U18 MVP, and Will Smith, who was U18 MVP just last year and drafted 4th overall by San Jose last year. Some 13 players were born in the 2000s, while the star name on the team is surely Johnny Gaudreau, who was on the 2018 WM bronze-medal team.