California, USA - While it may not be the most popular thing for certain countries, the breakdown of the IIHF World U20 Junior Ice Hockey Championship into divisions has done what it was intended to do. There is nothing more boring than watching a team blowout another 20-0, and by separating the competition, it makes each level highly competitive for all involved. While Bulgaria, China, Mexico, New Zealand, and Turkey would love to have a chance to beat everyone involved in the tournament to take the home the highest prize, the bottom line is that none of those teams have any business playing countries like Sweden, Russia, Canada, or anyone else in the Top Division...for now at least.
The beautiful thing about the way this tournament is designed is that if you can string together a few successful years, you'll have a chance to make it to the top and you'll have earned it. This isn't the NCAA BCS where everything is highly debatable. You win the group, you get promoted; you lose the group, you get relegated; if you don't win or lose the group, you play there next year. It's as simple as that, which is how it should be. In the meantime, those of us watching the WJHC will get to see great hockey on all levels of play and new matchups every year with the team carousel among the divisions.
If you have done your studying on the WJHC Division III, chances are you noticed that there are a select group that are honored with playing there every year. I won't name who. The nice thing though is that there are teams that have a great shot at making a splash in Division II Group B if they can make the jump. We previewed Mexico first and there was a reason for that. They, along with New Zealand, are probably the most exciting teams to look for in the bottom division because they have arguably the most potential.
On the other hand, teams such as Bulgaria and Turkey have a lot to prove. These two veterans of Division III have settled for lackluster performances throughout their long history. Will this be the year they break free from complacency? And what about the Chinese? Will they finally be able to step out of the shadow of their female counterparts? They can be an exciting team at that level when they don't slip up. Last year they had the best goalie (Xia Shengrong) and forward (Zhang Cheng) in the division and if they didn't blow it against Iceland, we wouldn't be previewing them until next week.
The bottom line is that while this is the worst division in the WJHC, the parity makes it intriguing to watch; much in the same way minor league baseball is still enjoyable regardless of lower level of play. Tomorrow we move up the ranks and begin coverage of Division II Group B with everyone's favorite villains from the Disney film, D2: The Mighty Ducks, Team Iceland.
For previous team articles, click the links below
New Zealand: http://www.juniorhockey.com/news/news_detail.php?news_id=75122
Matt Prosser, Featured Writer for JuniorHockey.com. Owner of Fifty8 Productions and freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Voice of California State University, Sacramento Hockey and host of The Sports Cycle with Matt Prosser on KSSU1580 Sacramento. For comments and writing ventures e-mail Matt@Fifty8productions.com. Follow on Twitter @MattProsser58 or visit www.kssusportsycle.com.