Olympic hockey doesn't reward top team

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Winning games in the preliminary round of the Olympic hockey tournament doesn't mean much ... unless you finish out of the top eight. (QMI AGENCY file photo)

VANCOUVER — Welcome to the Olympics where finishing first in the preliminary round of the hockey tournament is worth … what?

Not much, apparently.

With the format being used for these Games, finishing first does not guarantee getting the weakest seed for the quarterfinal games which gets underway Wednesday.

Everybody should know that going in, but, still, it just doesn’t seem fair.

Here’s how it works:

After “Rivalry Sunday,” the 12 teams in the tournament will be ranked from 1-12 (1D-12D) with the top four teams advancing straight to the quarterfinals. Teams 1D-4D will be designated as the home teams for their respective quarterfinals.

The remaining eight teams are placed in Group E (“E” for “elimination”?) with the matchups being 5D vs. 12D, 6D vs. 11D, 7D vs. 10D and 8D vs. 9D — based on the preliminary round results — in a one-game elimination matchup.

The winners of each of those games are designated “E1, E2 …” and so on.

This is where it gets interesting.

Rather than doing a reshuffle according to the seeds and having the top team from the preliminary round drawing the weakest survivor of the elimination games, the matchups are pre-determined.

The winner of the 5 vs. 12 game — designated E1 — for instance, will play the fourth-placed team from the preliminary round (4D-E1 is pre-determined matchup).

The first-placed team after the preliminary round will play the winner of the 8 vs. 9 matchup.

So even if there is a major upset and the 11th- or 10th-seeded teams advance, the top seed from the prelimary round will be still be stuck playing either the eighth or ninth seed.

Fair?

Hardly.

The value of the preliminary round games is practically zero, other than finishing in the top four allows you to play one less game.

“That’s the debate of this format. Do the first three games really mean anything? Or is it just a warmup?” said Swedish winger Daniel Alfredsson. “I think I’ll let you guys handle that one. It all has its pros and cons. We don’t have too much say in it.”

“It doesn’t cost you anything to lose early in the tournament,” said Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who’s an interested observer. “I just wouldn’t want to have to play that qualifier on Tuesday and then the quarterfinal on Wednesday. That’s the thing that I would like to avoid.”

Canada actually benefited from the format in 2002, you will remember. Despite finishing third in the final round, they drew Belarus, the weakest of the remaining four teams for the semifinal. That came over Belarus’ memorable upset of the Swedes, which had finished first in the final round. The winner of the Canada-Finland was going to play either Belarus or Sweden regardless of seedings.

So there you go.

Finishing first after Sunday’s games is no guarantee of the easiest route to the semifinals.

HEAR AND THERE: There were rumors Canadian forward Jarome Iginla had suffered a head injury in Thursday’s shootout win against Switzerland, but Team Canada officials said he was fine. Iginla played only two minutes in the third period and didn’t have a shift in overtime. He was blindsided on a hit by Switzerland’s Raffaele Sannitz, taking a shoulder to the head with a little more than two minutes left in the second period. Sannitz was penalized for interference on the play. Canadian defenceman Shea Weber didn’t like the hit and got in Sannitz’ face...Weber topped Team Canada in ice time Thursday, clocking 27:13. Captain Scott Niedermayer was next at 23:10. Forward Brenden Morrow had just 5:52...Not to say they couldn’t pore over video, but with a powerplay that is struggling — 1-for-7 against the Swiss — it seems odd Canada wouldn’t practise Friday, no?

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

FROM THE IIHF TOURNAMENT PLAYING FORMAT (IIHF.COM)

The following criteria will be used in the order presented to determine this ranking following completion of the Preliminary Round (1D - 12D):

Higher position in the group

Higher number of points

Better goal difference

Higher number of goals scored for

Better 2009 IIHF World Ranking

After the Preliminary Round, 1D, 2D, 3D and 4D will receive a bye into the Quarter Finals and will be named as the Home Team for their Quarter Final pairing.

The Qualification Playoff games will be played with the following match-ups (Group E):

5D - 12D (Winner will become E1)

6D - 11D (Winner will become E2)

7D - 10D (Winner will become E3)

8D - 9D (Winner will become E4)

The four winning teams of the Qualification Playoff games will advance to the Quarter Final Round. The four losing teams of the Qualification Playoff games will be ranked 9 through 12 according to their ranking after the Preliminary Round.

10. The Quarter Final Games will be played with the following match-ups (Group F):

1D - E4 (Winner will become F1)

2D - E3 (Winner will become F2)

3D - E2 (Winner will become F3)

4D - E1 (Winner will become F4)

The four winning teams of the Quarter Final games will advance to the Semi-Finals. The four losing teams of the Quarter Finals will be ranked 5 through 8 according to their ranking after the Preliminary Round.

The Semi-Final games will be played with the following match-ups. The home team will be the higher ranked team as determined at the completion of the Preliminary Round (Group D):

F1 - F4

F2 - F3

POLL