From April 24th to May 9th the Czech Republic will be hosting the 68th men's IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. A total of 56 games will be played - at the new SAZKA Arena in Prague and the CEZ Arena in Ostrava. 16 countries are taking part. They will meet in 24 games in the preliminary rounds in four groups (A,B,C,D) of four teams; twelve will go on to the qualifying round (two groups - E and F - of six teams with 18 games played in each group). The best four teams from these two groups will then qualify for the quarter-finals, and then the four semi-finalists and later the medal-winners will be determined by a knock-out system. Canada is defending the title.
Prague is staging the World Championship for the ninth time. In 1959 and 1992, before the split of Czechoslovakia, part of the tournament also took place in the Slovak capital Bratislava. This year the industrial town of Ostrava in the far eastern corner of the Czech Republic is enjoying its World Championship premiere.
Of the sixteen participating countries, 7 took part in the first ever World Championship in Belgium back in 1920 - Canada, USA, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (then Czechoslovakia), Sweden, Switzerland and France. The championship took place as part of the 7th Winter Olympics in Antwerp. Since then Czechoslovakia (subsequently the Czech Republic) and Sweden have been the most frequent participants in the championship. The Czechs will be taking part for the 64th time (the 11th time since the division of Czechoslovakia), the Swedes for the 63rd time, the Canadians for the 58th time, the USA for the 56th time, Finland for the 51st time, Germany for the 50th time and the Russians (previously the USSR) for the 47th time.
Among the relative newcomers are Kazakhstan and Denmark, which are taking part for the second and third time respectively. After the division of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic inherited the country's place in the world rankings, while Slovakia had the misfortune of having to work its way up through the rankings.
However since 1996 Slovakia has always qualified for the championship and was World Champion in 2002. The most successful nations in the championship are Russia - 23 times World Champions (22 times as the USSR) and Canada - 22 times. But when it comes to overall medals, Canada and the Czech Republic are ahead (if you include the medals of the former Czechoslovakia): both have won a total of 41 medals.
Group A: Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Kazakhstan
Group B: Slovakia, Finland, Ukraine, USA
Group C: Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Japan
Group D: Canada, Switzerland, Austria, France
SAZKA Arena in Prague
- capacity: 17.000 places (including 70 "boxes" and 2212
V.I.P. seats); this is where the games in the qualifying groups A and D will take place, as well as the second round games in Group E, five relegation games, as well as the quarter-finals, semi-finals, the game for the bronze medal, and the final.
CEZ Arena in Ostrava-Vitkovice
- capacity: 9011 seats; this is where the games in the qualifying groups B and C will take place, along with the second round games in Group F and some of the relegation games.