Monday, December 29, 2008

15zipgate: One more (slightly dissenting) voice in the debate

It's all the rage today to call on the IIHF to change the format of the World Juniors. Every hockey blogger this side of Red Deer (both sides really) is calling for CHANGE NOW!


It's not like anyone paying any attention hasn't been talking about the lack of competitive balance in this eventfor weeks or anything.

Big six teams have been beating the crap out of developing hockey nations for years in this event. Yesterday was just another example. It's just more noticed now because of the wall-to-wall media coverage.

But is the answer really to scale the event down? Does lowering the amount of teams in the A pool actually help in the development of international hockey? That seems unlikely.

During the live blog yesterday I made a suggestion for a middle ground format that would see the top teams compete in the same pool with the lesser countries battling for a single quarter-final spot. That would give the developing teams the opportunity to play ion the big stage (something that is important if they are to evolve), but would ensure that only the best of the bottom play a big name. That game would likely be in the 7-2 range as opposed to 15-0.

Imagine a tournament that runs like this:

Pool A
Czech Rep.

Pool B

A1 and A2 receive byes to semi-finals
PG1 - A6 v B1 in play-in game
PG2 - A3 v PG1 winner
PG3 - A4 v A5
PG4 - A1 v PG2 winner
PG5 - A2 v PG3 winner
PG6 - PG4 loser v PG5 loser - bronze
PG7 - PG4 winner v PG5 winner - gold

Everyone plays, everyone technically can win gold, but no one gets embarrassed.

Finding a formula the works for all countries is the answer. Reducing the field to eight might eliminate the blow-outs, but it does nothing to grow the sport. As for any idea to reduce the field to six, it's a non-starter. For one, to make it a true world title you would have to relegate one of the teams each year. So, you would have a big six country in pool B, which really doesn't do much for the blow-outs, nor does it give the developing teams much of a chance to develop.

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