Relegation Round Fever: Who will survive?
By Andrew Podnieks
There is a mini-tournament that goes on within the bigger context of the IIHF World Championship, and it goes by the name of the Relegation Round. This is the small series of games that fans of the elite hockey nations sometimes dismiss as unimportant or boring.
This year, the bottom four teams include Austria, Latvia, Norway, and Ukraine, hardly powerhouses, and hardly teams that have impressed here in Moscow. However, to dismiss the Relegation Round out of hand is to ignore some very important games for four countries and to miss out on some of the most emotionally charged hockey we will see here in Moscow.
In a nutshell, the four teams play a round robin, the top two advancing to the top level for 2008, the bottom two sent down to Division I play. Why is the Relegation Round so important? The Danish public relations manager put it succinctly with a touch of humour when he said to his players, "You can play in Quebec City next year or you can play in Ust-Kamenogorsk," in reference to the host cities of the elite division and Division I.
The greater issue is not the tourism value of the host cities but the importance of playing against the best teams in the world or the second-best. Common sense suggests that a nation will develop more skill and better players, and have greater international success, by playing against superior opponents, even if that means losing 8-0 every now and then.
For those who think these lesser top-level teams should do this maturing in lower levels and only come up when they're ready to compete against the Canadas and Russias of the world, they forget that the process of developing a world-class system is not so easy.