Something to ponder as you sip your morning coffee and prepare to hunker down for the semifinals of the World Junior Championship…if you care about such things.
If history is any sort of accurate indicator, either USA or Sweden will emerge as the gold medal winner in the final Saturday and if recent history is any indicator, those two teams will be the ones that meet in the championship game.
The WJC has taken on a number of formats over the years, but the one that has been used for the past five tournaments has seen the first place team in each group get a bye to the semifinal with the second- and third-place teams in each pool playing a crossover quarterfinal game. The only other time that format was used was 1999. In the tournaments that were held from 1996 through 1998 and 2000 through 2003, the top four finishers in each pool played in the quarterfinals.
Prior to that, the tournament was simply a round-robin event and the team that had the best record at the end of the tournament was declared the winner. That format is my personal favorite, simply because the new format doesn’t come close to producing the same kind of drama game-in and game-out that the previous one did. Under the old format, every game was of paramount importance.
In any event, of the six times the current format has been employed, the team that played in the quarterfinal game has won the gold medal only once, when Russia defeated Canada, which also played in the quarterfinal, in the gold medal game in 1999 in Winnipeg.
Since then, the format has not been kind at all to the team that played in the quarterfinal. Only once since then, Russia in 2005, has the team playing in the quarterfinal gone on to even make it to the gold medal game. That year the Russians were waxed by Canada in North Dakota.
On every other occasion, for a total of nine out of 12 times, the team participating in the quarterfinal has gone on to lose in the semifinal.
Things might be different this year for one reason.
Prior to this year, the quarterfinals and semifinals were played on back-to-back days, then the teams had a day off before playing the games for the bronze and gold medals. This year, the quarterfinalists had a day off before moving on to the semis, with no rest day for the final.
That way, the team that earned the bye into the semifinal will have to play two games in two days, just as the quarterfinal participants will. Those who played in the quarterfinals will have played three games in four days.