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A Guide to the IIHF World Championship

The Ice Hockey World Championships is the biggest annual event in ice hockey. The competition is played by the top national ice hockey teams in the world and is organised by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). The tournament has been restructured many times since its launch at the 1920 Summer Olympics. The World Championships became an independent event from the Olympics in 1930, though there have been several years when a separate event could not be held and during those years, the Olympics were counted as the World Championship.

Ice Hockey World Championship Structure

There are five divisions in the competition, with 16 teams playing in the Top Division, 12 in Division I, 12 in Division II, 10 in Division III and 4 in Division IV. Teams playing over the different divisions have the chance to win the division and be promoted or qualify to play in playoffs for promotion to the next division up, and teams that fall last place will be relegated to the division below. Starting from the Division IV, the structure works as such:

In Division IV, there are four teams that play in a robin round tournament, the team that finishes first is promoted to the Division III B championship. It is important to note that the Division IV was formed in 2020 to represent the lowest ranking teams, but since the pandemic there has yet to be a game played.

Division III is played by 10 teams, these are split into Group A and Group B, based on their positions in the world rankings. The two groups play independent robin round tournaments, and when the games have concluded, the winners of Group A are promoted to the Division II B championship, and the team that finishes last are relegated to Group B. The winners of Group B are promoted to Group A and the team that finishes at the bottom of the table are relegated to Division IV. The relegated team is then replaced in Group B by the winners of Division IV.

The Divisions I and II follow the same format as the Division III, except that they have 12 teams each, which are split into Group A and B. The loser of Group B will be relegated into the division below, and will be replaced by the winner of Group A from that division. The losers of Group A are relegated to Group B and they are replaced by the winner of Group B. The winners of Group A are promoted and replace the losers of Group B of the higher division. The exception is that in Division I, the winner and the runner up of Group A are promoted to the Top Division.

The Top Division comprises 16 teams, split into Group A and Group B. Where it differs though, is that the teams are seeded and placed into the groups in a serpentine system. This means that both Group A and Group B are seeded to have equally balanced ranked teams. The losers of both groups are relegated to Division I. The four top placing teams after the robin round proceed to a playoff round. The playoff begins from the quarter finals, where the qualifying teams are paired according to their seeding after the competition proper. The quarter finals through to the finals are all played in one leg, and there is also a game for third place played after the semi-finals conclude. The winner of the final becomes the new IIHF World Champion.

The World Championship also follows slightly different rules from the popular National Hockey League (NHL). Following the "Canadian rules" of the game, the contests are played in three periods rather than two halves. The NHL ice rink is also narrower, measuring 61x26 metres, whereas the championship uses the international standard size of 61x30.5 metres.

History of the Ice Hockey World Championship

The 1920 Summer Olympics is considered to be the first Ice Hockey World Championship. Seven teams participated in the competition: Canada, Czechoslovakia, the United States, Switzerland, Sweden, France and Belgium. The competition was won by the Canadians, with the United States coming in second place and Czechoslovakia placing third. The teams would have to wait for four years for the next Olympics to play in the event again. Canada won the next two Olympic World Championships, and in 1930 it was decided that an independent event should be held annually. Canada kept winning, dominating the 30s winning 11 titles up until 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, competitions were put on hold until 1946. Czechoslovakia emerged as a strong contender for the championship, winning the tournament in 1947 and 1949. The Canadian dominance came back in the early 50s when Canada won three back to back championships.

The 50s to the early 60s saw a rivalry between Canada and the Soviet Union, with the Soviet Union beating Canada in the finals in 1954. The two met again in the finals the following year, and Canada got their revenge. Canada beat the Soviet Union two more times in finals in 1958 and 1959, and they went on to win one more World Championship title in 1961 to put their tally up to 19. This marked the beginning of a 33 year drought for Canada before they could clinch their 20th title.

In 1963, the Soviet Union won their third title, and started a nine year consecutive winning streak. Czechoslovakia and Sweden became the new competition for the Soviet Union, with either team meeting the Soviet Union in the finals in the 9 consecutive years. Czechoslovakia finally broke the winning streak and beat the Soviet Union in the 1972 final, to win their third title. The Soviet Union however still dominated the decade, winning 7 times. Czechoslovakia won two more titles in 1976 and in 1977.

In 1983, the Soviet Union beat Czechoslovakia once again in the finals, putting their tally to 19, tying with Canada. The following year the event was not held, and the teams came back to play in the 1985 competition. Canada beat the Soviet Union, and pushed on to win their 20th title to mark their dominance in the game, but they were beaten by Czechoslovakia in the finals. The following year, the Soviet Union beat Canada in the final group stage, and beat Finland and Sweden to win their 20th title. With the win of their 20th, the Soviet Union became the leading champions in the World Championship.

The Soviet Union won again in 1989 and 1990, but with the fall of the Union, the team diminished in strength for a few years. In 1993, Russia won their first tournament after the dissipation of the Soviet Union.

In 1994, the Canadians beat Finland in the finals, to end the Canadian trophy drought. Just as the Soviet Union had disbanded and was replaced with Russia, Czechoslovakia had become the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The two nations were still just as invested in the sport and Czech Republic won three back to back titles from 1999 through 2001. In 2002 Slovakia, the other part of old Czechoslovakia, won their first world championship.

In the 2000s and 2010s the competition has been far more open than in previous decades. In both recent decades 5 teams have won the title, Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Russia and Finland (Slovakia in 2002 and Finland in 2011 and 2019). The United States and Switzerland have come runner up or third place numerous times in the past decade, showing improved competition to the "big six".

How to Bet on the Ice Hockey World Championship

As exciting as the Ice Hockey World Championship can be to watch, placing bets may make match watching even more thrilling and is a great way to back your favourite team. There are standard bets, which relate to the full time result such as which team will win the match, betting on a winning team with a puck line, and over/under bets on total overall score amongst many more. In addition to the main markets, there are bets that are more specific and can have much higher paying odds. Game and player props can include bets such as which team will win the first period, which team will open the scoring, which team will score the last goal, will a player score in a game, will a player concede a foul and so on. These various bets can become very specific and can make all the smaller details in the match exciting too.

It is important to gamble responsibly, if you feel like you need advice or know someone who may need help, you can turn to organisations such as for more information and consultation.


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