International Ice Hockey Federation

Staying up at U20

Staying up at U20

Denmark, Germany have tough task

Published 26.12.2014 12:20 GMT-5 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Staying up at U20
The last time Germany and Denmark played in the same U20 tier was in the 2009/2010 season at the Division I tournament in France. Photo: Jean-Pierre Garel
The 2015 edition of the World Junior Championship marks the 20th year the tournament has been played with ten teams and a playoff format.

Two things have become the norm under this system of play: the top teams compete every year and the rest bounce back between the top level and Division I.

Consider that Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, and the United States have never played outside the top level in the last two decades. Switzerland has been in every U20 except 2009. That means eight of the top ten spots have been occupied by the same nations year after year while the other two have been represented by a series of rotating teams.

Germany, for instance, is in Montreal playing the U20 for the eighth time in that stretch. Denmark, despite achieving consistent success at the senior World Championship since 2003, is in Toronto for only its third U20 in the last 20 years.

As well, eight other countries have played at the top level of the U20 in the last 20 years, but none has had any staying power. Belarus has been the best of the second tier, having played six times and earning promotion earlier this month for 2016. Kazakhstan has also played six times, the most recent coming in 2009. Latvia has played five times, most recently in 2013, and the Ukraine four times, 2004 being the most recent.

Norway played for the third time last year but was demoted for this season and failed to earn a place at the top level for 2016. Austria has played only in 2004 and 2010 while Poland (1997) and France (2002) have participated only once each.

The problems are many for the teams outside the top eight at the junior level. For starters, a ten-team event is highly competitive. At the senior level, the World Championship consists of 16 teams, so staying up top is easier simply on the basis of numbers.

Continue reading

As well, once a nation has developed a core of world-class pros, it is far easier to keep that core together, or re-unite them every year at least, for the World Championship. The U20 event requires teams to create a new pool of talent every year or two because of age eligibility requirements. If a team is able to stay up two years in a row, it will likely lose all those players for the next year, and the task of replicating its feat becomes much more difficult because they have a much smaller pool of talent from which to draw at the junior level.

Furthermore, the development of teenage players in the top countries is far more sophisticated than smaller nations. It’s a matter of boys playing against men in many cases, an imbalance that evens out once players reach their early twenties, but one in full effect when kids are 17, 18, or 19 years old.

For top-level juniors, their maturity is not only physical but mental and emotional. Players from top countries play, particularly in North America, a full schedule with playoffs, and they are vastly more experienced and prepared for pressure situations like overtime and shootouts. Nerves that might affect a Latvian or Ukrainian player late in a one-goal game are nowhere evident in a Canadian or American who plays nearly 100 OHL, QMJHL, or WHL games a year.

In 2015, it’s Denmark and Germany that are under the greatest pressure. Denmark has never played two successive U20 tournaments at the top level, and although the Germans have had the greater success between the two, they still trail the top eight by a significant margin. History is a powerful influence, but history is also a changeable force.


Back to Overview