Puck Daddy - NHL

Maybe the IIHF World Championships mean something to you, and maybe they don't.

Perhaps you care about Ryan Carter's trip to France for practice or the nine Nashville Predators in the tournament or stargazing at all the Russian NHL players determined to turn worlds into a panacea for their Olympic flameout. Heck, Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Alex Ovechkin(notes) could play ping-pong, and we'd be compelled to watch ... if only to see Pavel dangle on the volley and to check the legality of Ovie's hits.

But it's hard for an American fan to get fired up for a tournament (a) that's being played in Germany and (b) isn't readily available on our spiffy HDTV sets and (c) that we apparently suck at. Because Americans like three things: BBQ, movies with explosions and winning. And none of these things are happening at worlds.

In case you haven't been following the inaction, Team USA lost to Germany -- for the first time in 17 years -- in OT, 2-1, in front of 77,803 fans; and then lost to Denmark in OT, 2-1, behind a strong effort from goaltender Patrick Galbraith. The Americans snagged charity points in both games, but are winless in their first two pool-play games for the first time since 2003's tournament in Finland.

Speaking of the Finns, their game with the Americans on Wednesday will determine if Team USA saves face or plunges into embarrassment at worlds. Because there are several scenarios through which the U.S. -- with an NHL player-laden roster, coming off a silver at the Olympics -- could face one of international sports' ultimate indignations.

The term is "relegation," and if you're an international soccer fan you no doubt know it. It's the dropping of a team from one tier to a lower tier, and it happens every year at the IIHF World Championships.

Each last-place team from the four pools of the preliminary round goes into the relegation round, playing in two best-of-three series. The losers of these relegation series are then dropped to Division I status.

(Ed. Note: We initially reported that relegation was a best-of-3 series, which isn't the case. It's a round-robin tournament in which the top two teams return to the elite level and the bottom two move down to Div. I. Thanks to dedicated reader Kurt Boyer for the correction.)

What's Division I status mean? That they need to play in another tournament next year for the right to get back into the IIHF World Championship tournament the following season. For example, Hungary and Austria were relegated after the 2009 world championships. Austria won its Division I group in April 2010 and Slovenia won its group, meaning they'll play in the 2011 worlds in Slovakia. Hungary is still mired in Division I for another season, however.

Can this happen to the U.S.? Joe Yerdon of Universal Sports looks at the possibility of advancement or the relegation round depending on how the team fares against Pekka Rinne(notes) (uh-oh) and Finland:

Should they defeat Finland on Wednesday, the USA will finish with either four or five points (depending if they win in regulation or overtime) and move on to the qualification round. It's that simple. With either four or five points they'd be ahead of Finland either completely by points or get the nod over them in the tiebreaker by virtue of beating them.

Should the USA end up losing in regulation, they're headed to the relegation round regardless of what happens between Denmark and Germany because Germany has the tiebreaker over the USA. If the USA loses in overtime to Finland, despite the damage done to their psyche, they'll have to hope that Germany loses in regulation to Denmark. The United States will already know where they stand when they play on Wednesday, however, as Germany-Denmark is the early game in Cologne.

Even if the U.S. is shoved to the relegation round, one hopes this roster can muster up a scintilla of national pride to avoid the ultimate embarrassment of playing in the D-I tournament next year. Seriously, have you seen the nations that play in D-I?

Yes, good luck getting NHLers to postpone family vacations in 2011 for the privilege of playing Japan in a tournament that's even more obscure than the IIHF worlds are here in the states.

So what's gone wrong with this team? Here's Head Coach Scott Gordon in USA Today:

"Our games have been close, but we just aren't playing well enough," said U.S. Coach Scott Gordon (New York Islanders).

The Americans lost their opening game to Germany by the same 2-1 decision in overtime. The last time the Americans were 0-2 at the World Championships, they ended up falling into the consolation bracket.

"It's been a combination (of factors)," Gordon said about his team's start. "It's been a little bit of inexperience and turnovers. We've had stretches when we had a lot of sustained pressure, but we haven't had consistency getting pucks through the neutral zone."

But inexperience is the reason this roster's been put together by the USA Hockey brain trust.

There are 15 players 25 years old or younger on the roster. There are only three players that attended Team USA orientation camp for the Olympics (T.J. Oshie(notes), Kyle Okposo(notes) and Jack Johnson(notes)) and only one Olympian in defenseman Johnson of the Los Angeles Kings.

The rest of the Olympic roster is either still competing in the playoffs (Brooks Orpik(notes), Joe Pavelski(notes), Ryan Kesler(notes)) or is enjoying the offseason after the grind international/NHL season (Zach Parise(notes), Paul Stastny(notes)). But where are Jason Pominville(notes) or Matt Niskanen(notes) or Ron Hainsey(notes)? Or other U.S. players of that ilk?

The chances that Team USA will be relegated are slim. Hell, they're inconceivable. But there is a chance we could be previewing USA/Great Britain next spring, and that's just nuts.

At this point, American hockey fans should be thankful this tournament has itself been relegated to pirate TV sites, Internet PPV and obscure cable networks.

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