In the early days of the Championships, the teams from Canada dominated. Between 1930 and 1939, Canadian teams won the
tournament eight times. This occurred despite the fact that Canada sent a
different club team each year, as in those days Senior Amateur teams typically
The World War II years caused
the Championships to be cancelled from 1940-1946.
Canadian teams continued to dominate the tournament in the early post-war
era, but from 1954 onward the Championships became increasingly competitive, as USSR joined them this year, and
teams Czechoslovakia and Sweden improved
their skill level.
While the top European players were officially able to compete in the World
Championships while retaining their amateur status, players in the National Hockey
League were prohibited for many years from entering in the tournament. As
the great majority of NHL players were Canadian nationals, this rule was seen by
many as discriminatory against Canadian players.
In 1970, the IIHF allowed Canada to send nine professionals from the ranks of the NHL and its
affiliated minor leagues (though as the tournaments were held during the Stanley
Cup playoffs, only a handful of them could actually compete). However, these
rules were later rescinded after officials produced many reciprocal claims
against them. It upset the Canadians, who felt?that they should be allowed to
send their best players as well. Canada boycotted the World Championships for
seven years as a result, during which the IIHF moved the championships out of
the Olympics in 1972 and 1976 in an attempt to resolve the issue.
In 1976, a new
president of the IIHF finally allowed professionals on all teams, and Canada
returned to competition the following year. By this time, the quality of play of
European hockey had improved so much that even Canadian rosters filled with NHL
players whose teams had missed the playoffs could not dominate. Not until 1994, 33 years after its
previous championship, would Canada win the tournament again.
By the early 1990s the breakup of the Soviet
Union, which dominated the Championships for much of the three decades after
Canada's dominance ended, and of Czechoslovakia, which won in most of the years
in which the Soviets did not, brought about unprecedented parity to the
international game for two reasons:
The breakup of USSR and Czechoslovakia created a challenge for the IIHF
because new national teams like Belarus, Czech Republic, Kazahkstan, Latvia,
Russia, and Slovakia wanted to participate in the Championships at the highest
level of play, pool A. The IIHF ruled that Czech Republic and Russia would be
permitted immediate entry to pool A, but the other new national teams would have
to start at pool C. It became clear that the new teams were or would soon be,
better than many of the existing, but less elite, pool A teams. The
Championships ran the risk of established countries being displaced from pool A
by the new teams as they advanced from pool C. As the IIHF depended on
advertising revenue derived from the established countries, it decided to expand
pool A to accommodate the existing pool A teams plus the new rising teams.
In recent championships, the two nations of the former Czechoslovakia have
fared extremely well in international play, accounting for four straight
championships between 1999-2002 the first three by the Czech
Republic and the latter by Slovakia. (The Czech side also won the 1998 Winter Olympic
gold medal in Nagano, Japan). Canada has
recently returned to prominence with an international trophy binge, capturing
the 2003 and 2004 World Championships as well as the 2002 Winter Olympic
gold medal at Salt Lake City and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
The Czech Republic won the 2005 World Championship.
The modern format for the World Championships features a minimum of 40 teams:
16 teams in the main group, 12 teams in Division I and 12 teams in Division
II. If there are more than 40 teams, the rest compete in Division III.
The main group features 16 teams. In the Preliminary round the 16 teams are
split into 4 groups (Groups A through D) and the teams play each other in a
round robin format, and the top 3 teams in each division advance into the
Qualifying round. The Qualifying round is another round of group play with 2
groups of 6; the top three teams from group A and group D are placed together
and the top three teams from group B and group C are placed together. In the
Qualifying round teams maintain their results from the Preliminary round against
other teams who have also advanced, and only play against teams which they have
not previously played against. The top four teams in each Qualifying round group
advance into the knockout playoff stage. In the quarterfinals the first place
team from one group plays the fourth place team from the other group, and the
second place team from one group plays the third place team from the other
group. The winners advance to the semi-finals. The winners of the semi-finals
advance to the Gold medal game, and the losers advance to the Bronze medal
The bottom teams in the Preliminary round play in another group as well; this
group will determine relegation. After a round-robin format, the bottom two
teams are usually relegated to Division I. Japan was typically never
relegated, as the IIHF held a "Far East Qualifier" with an automatic berth from
1998 to 2005 to develop the popularity of the sport in the Far East. Japan had always won this tournament, but due to the
lack of popular support in the Far East, little improvement in the quality of play,
and poor prospects for any related marketing, the IIHF has discontinued the
practice in the 2005 Championships, relegating Japan to compete in Division I.
Below the World Championship group are two 6-team Division I round robin
groups, the winner of which is promoted to the World Championship group, while
each last place team is demoted to Division II. Division II works similarly to
Division I, with two 6-team groups where each last place team is relegated to a
Division III group. There is no relegation from Division III.
Because the World ?hampionships are played at the same time as the NHL
playoffs, some of the world's best players do not participate. The World
Championships receive far less media coverage in Canada than North American
competitions do. In the United States, few sports fans are even aware the
tournament exists. In the hockey-playing countries of Europe, however, the World
Championships are one of the major events on the sports calendar.