California, USA - Due to the parity of the IIHF World U20 Junior Ice Hockey Championships, from head to toe Division II Group B should be exhilarating to witness. So many teams are looking to prove they have what it takes to make it to the next level while others are scratching and clawing to show the world they can hack it right where they are.
The way the WJHC is designed helps make the games interesting. Let's be honest, nobody would want to watch Iceland face Russia and waste everybody's time. It's no knock on Iceland or anyone else who plays at their denomination, but why force a team that isn't capable of playing with highest of high octane competitors to have an experience with no growth? It just doesn't make sense. With the breakdowns of divisions and subdivisions (groups), teams from all over the globe are included in one of the most culturally diverse tournaments in the world, while building a program that can improve step-by-step along the way.
Nothing hinders development more than losing with no chance of winning. It discourages players, leads individuals to doubt their purpose on a team, and eventually moves players to determine the game isn't for them. Instead, teams and players get a chance to grow and flourish at an appropriate skill level, but still on the biggest platform in the sport. That is what teams in Division II Group B experience.
Some teams have a geographical disadvantage like those that are south of the equator. They attend the WJHC in the off-season which for us would be equivalent to playing hockey in summer. That can cause many problems physically and financially. This is what continuously plagues teams like Australia according to head coach, Ryan O'Handley. It makes sense. Other countries such as Serbia, Belgium, and Estonia have had wars rip through the heart of the sport in their respective countries which caused a sluggish rebuild.
There are many factors as to why teams are down at this level other than poor play against the higher ranked teams. In fact, there are some teams that could do some real damage at the next level. If South Korea turned one of their two shootout losses last year into a win, we wouldn't even be discussing them until next week. The big question for them after losing top goaltender Kye Hoon Park due to age, is who will take his place?
Estonia was one win away from a promotion last year in which case they too wouldn't be discussed until Monday. However, they are the heavy favorite to win DIIB this coming year and it would be a shocking upset if they don't. They had four of the top ten scorers last year including Robert Rooba and Artjom Gornostajev who took the top two spots respectively. The crazy thing is that three of those four players are still age-eligible to come back this year along with goaltender Aleksei Arno.
When it comes to Serbia, they could be a crap shoot because a number of their players are questionable for return and they didn't play all that great anyways. A lot of what they do in 2013 will depend on new players climbing the ladder in-house and they had the worst goaltender in the group besides Mexico (who was relegated). And when it comes to Belgium, it all depends on if they have players with a desire to be there. In that country, hockey is lowest on the totem pole and it shows in their history of play. The Belgians have been around for 33 years and have lost over twice as many games as they have won. There just seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for the sport which is unfortunate.
All in all, just about any game played at the Division II Group B level in 2013 is bound to be a fun one to watch. The only question remaining is will anyone be interested enough to watch? It would behoove anyone who loves the game at its purest form to at least take a glance at games in this group. The parity alone should be enough to get you to watch the first game.
For previous team articles, click the links below
South Korea: http://www.juniorhockey.com/news/news_detail.php?news_id=75268
Division III: http://www.juniorhockey.com/news/news_detail.php?news_id=75142
New Zealand: http://www.juniorhockey.com/news/news_detail.php?news_id=75122
Intro to 2013 WJHC: http://www.juniorhockey.com/news/news_detail.php?news_id=75064
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.