Another disappointing finish at the IIHF World Hockey Championship didn’t end up hurting Team Canada in the seedings for the next Olympics.
It arguably landed in the best of the three groups for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, along with Finland, Norway and a lower-level qualifier.
The groups were determined based on the world rankings at the conclusion of the IIHF World Hockey Championship, which was won in dominant fashion by Russia on Sunday.
Canada had hoped to use a good finish at the tournament to guarantee the best group possible in Sochi. It remained fifth in the world ranking after losing in the quarter-finals, but landed in a decent group after a surprisingly strong world championship from Norway saw it jump to eighth in the world.
The international scene has been tough on Canadian teams since the Vancouver Olympics with three straight early exits at the world championship.
“It probably sets everything up again,” general manager Kevin Lowe said after the quarter-final loss to Slovakia last week. “I think Torino (in 2006) set up Vancouver pretty well and I think these three losses set up Sochi in terms of the fact we’ve got a lot to prove.”
The No. 1-ranked Russians will be grouped with the U.S., Slovakia and a qualifier when they attempt to win Olympic gold on home soil in Sochi. The other pool features the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and a qualifier.
Nine countries will battle for the final three available Olympic spots during three qualifying tournaments next February.
Under the Olympic tournament format, the top two teams in each pool — plus the next best two — move on to the quarter-finals. Russia will likely enter the Sochi Games as the favourite, although not everyone shares that opinion.
“No, the defending champions have to be the favourite,” said veteran coach Andy Murray, a three-time world champion. “As a Canadian, you would never say anyone else was the favourite.”
The NHL has yet to officially commit to sending players to the Sochi Olympics. That’s expected to happen as part of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players’ Association in the coming months.
In the four Olympics featuring NHLers, Team Canada won gold at the two held in North America (Salt Lake City and Vancouver) and fell short when the tournaments were played abroad (Nagano and Turin). However, executive director Steve Yzerman thinks that’s more of a “coincidence” than anything else.
“Wherever the tournament is you overcome whatever obstacles there are,” Yzerman told The Canadian Press during the world championship.