So now that preliminary-round play in the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship is coming to a finish, perhaps now is as good a time as any to provide a brief primer on what it all means.
The function of the preliminary round for each country was to establish seeding in each of the 10-team groups, A and B. After the four-game, round-robin schedule, the three teams with the most points in each group at the end of group play advance to the medal round at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary beginning Jan. 2.
MEDAL-ROUND OVERTIME PROCEDURE
If a quarterfinal, semifinal or bronze-medal game is tied at the end of regulation, the teams will play a 10-minute, 4-on-4 overtime period following a three-minute intermission. If no goal is scored in the overtime period, then the game will go to a shootout.
If the gold-medal game is knotted at the end of regulation, the teams will play a 20-minute 4-on-4 overtime period following a 15-minute intermission. If no goal is scored in the overtime, then there will be a shootout.
The shootout will consist of three different shooters from each team taking turns, alternating by team, until a decisive goal is scored. If the shootout is tied after three shots by each team, the shootout will continue with a tie-break shootout by one player from each team. The same or new players can be used for each shot by a team in the tie-break shootout. The game will end after the duel of two players brings the decisive result.
The U.S. has two games remaining in preliminary-round action. They face the Czech Republic on Friday (3:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) and Canada on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
Canada currently leads Group B with a 3-0-0-0 record (W-OTW-OTL-L) and nine points. The U.S., Czech Republic and Finland all enter Friday's competition with three points apiece (three points for a win; two points for an OT win; one point for an OT loss). Two of those three teams likely will earn the second and third seeds within the Group. Denmark, which is fifth with zero points, has one preliminary-round game remaining against Finland on Friday.
Should the U.S. lose to the Czech Republic in regulation and Finland defeat Denmark in regulation Friday, the U.S. would fall to the relegation round regardless of the outcome of its final game against Canada. However, should the U.S. win Friday, it would remain in position to capture first place in Group B outright if the Czech Republic avoided a regulation loss to Finland in their preliminary-round finale Saturday, and if Team USA beats Canada on New Year's Eve.
The first-place team earns an automatic bye into the semifinals, while the second- and third-place teams in each group will play cross-over quarterfinal-round matches, with the second-place team from Group A playing the third-place team from Group B, and the third-place team from Group A facing the second-place team from Group B. The winners advance to the semis; the losers play a placement game. The survivors of the semifinal round advance to the gold-medal game, while the losers will play for the bronze.
What does that mean for Canada and the U.S.? In addition to the highly-anticipated preliminary-round showdown on New Year's Eve, the only other chance these rivals could meet would be in the gold-medal game, 8 p.m. on Jan. 5 (NHLN-US).
The four teams not advancing to the medal round will compete in the relegation round, also held at Scotiabank Saddledome. The relegated teams play a single round-robin format series. The top three teams at the end of this round earn an invitation to the 2013 WJC. The last-place team is relegated to Division I, Group A, next year.
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