Both Austria and South Korea have been promoted to Division 1 play for next year’s World Championships. After a tight and grueling tournament, Korea edged out the Ukraine in a shootout to take the final spot. South Korea will host the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, and regardless of NHL involvement, the spotlight will be on their country to make a mark in the hockey world. They apparently will not be outclassed too mightily, as they have steeply improved under the direction of former NHLers Jim Paek and Richard Park. As recently as 2009, Korea was in Division II and they had consistently been ranked lower than 30th in terms of world ranking.
Austria is less of a surprise, as they had been relegated only in 2015. The country boasts successful NHL players such as Michael Grabner, Thomas Vanek, and Michael Raffl. They obliterated Poland in their final game 11-0 to win the tournament, proving definitively that they belong at the next level. The losing-est country in each group at the Worlds will face relegation and take their places in Division 1A. A country being able to compete with the top talent in the world on international hockey’s biggest stage is a huge boost in visibility for prospects and increases viability for its players in terms of acquiring a sizable pro contract.
The major tournament will begin on May 5 and conclude on May 21. As always, Canada and the United States are at a bit of a disadvantage as NHLers tend to opt out of the competition following a grueling 82 games and potential playoff runs. Additionally, some of the best players will still be playing as the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue to grind along. Russia, Sweden, and Finland are heavy contenders, and Switzerland seemingly improves every year. The IIHF tournament is a wonderful time to view lesser known adult stars from overseas, and an impressive performance can mean lucrative playing opportunities. The games will be played in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany.