While the Wisconsin men’s hockey team returns to the ice this weekend against Alabama-Huntsville at the Kohl Center, the Badgers will be
playing without sophomore center Nic Kerdiles. Kerdiles is in Malmo, Sweden, site of the U20 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships that start today and run through Jan. 5, 2014.
The tournament if full of players that have been drafted over the past couple of years by NHL franchises, including Kerdiles, a second round selection of the Anaheim Ducks.
This event has had a Wisconsin flavor to it over the years. Mike Eaves coached the 2004 US squad that won its first gold medal in the event. Former Badgers’ Ryan Suter, Jake Dowell and Jeff Likens were on that squad.
In 2010, another ex-Badger, Derek Stepan, captained the U-S to its second gold medal. Last year, current UW defenseman Jake McCabe was captain of Team USA when it won the gold medal in Russia.
Canada won five straight gold medals from 2005-2009. The United States then beat the Canadians in overtime to win gold in 2010.
The United States, Canada, Russia and Sweden are the favored teams, but Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will give the top teams a run for their money.
In past years, the top three teams from each group at the end of the preliminary round would advance to the medal round, with the top finisher getting a bye. That would eventually send four teams into the relegation round.
This year, only two teams, the last place finishers in each group at the end of the preliminary round, play to stave off relegation. The top four teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals and no one gets the bye. All eight teams have to play in the quarterfinals.
The host country, Sweden is favored to win gold. They were the 2012 champion, only to lose out last year.
The United States comes in as the defending champions but are considered underdogs this year. They have only three returning players from last year
The Americans open play today against the Czech Republic, the first of four preliminary round games that concludes with a New Year’s Eve showdown against Canada.
Games from this years event can be seen on the NHL Network.