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Hockey 101: Competition Format

Evegeni Malkin shoots the puck against Slovenia at 2014 Sochi Olympics
USA TODAY Sports/Scott Rovak

Hockey 101: Competition Format

How much Olympic hockey can you handle? Check out how the Olympic tournament in PyeongChang breaks down

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has their stage set for the men's and women's hockey tournaments for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. 

Let the games begin!

The men’s tournament features 12 teams broken down into three groups with four teams per group, while the women's tournament includes eight teams playing in two groups of four. 

Men's tournament 

Group A Group B Group C
 Canada  Russia   Finland 
 Czech Republic   Slovakia   Germany 
 South Korea  Slovenia   Norway 
 Switzerland   United States   Sweden 

Women's tournament

Group A Group B
 United States   Sweden 
 Canada   Switzerland 
 Finland   Japan 
 Russia   South Korea 

Play opens in each tournament with preliminary round robin games – 18 games for the men and 12 for the women. The men's groups are seeded based on IIHF World Rankings, with the top-eight nations of the 2015 rankings automatically qualifying. As the host nation, South Korea was awarded a spot in the tournament, and three more teams qualified in separate events to make it to PyeongChang. 

The women's groups are divided with the top four ranked teams playing in Group A and the rest of the field playing in Group B.

At the end of every game, teams are awarded points using the IIHF's Three Point System. These points are then used to help determine the seeding position for teams entering the knockout rounds. Points are awarded as follows:

3 points
Awarded to winning team at the end of regulation
1 point
Awarded to teams tied at the end of regulation
1 additional point
Awarded to team winning in overtime or shootout
0 points
No point given to losing team at the end of regulation.

Advancing to the knockout stage

The march toward the gold medal hits its stride at the conclusion of the preliminary round games. The men's teams are ranked from 1-12 using five criteria to determine the order. In order of importance, higher position in the group, higher number of points, better goal difference, higher number of goals scored for and better 2013 IIHF World Ranking, with the top four ranked teams receiving automatic byes to the quarterfinals.

Four games, known as the Qualification Playoff games, will be played between the eight remaining teams to determine who moves on to the quarterfinals. Winners of the four quarterfinal games advance to two semifinal games. The winners of the two semifinal games meet in the gold medal game. The winner takes Olympic hockey gold and the loser leaves with silver. The losing semifinal round teams play in the bronze medal game to determine the final podium position. 

Guaranteeing the best teams will play against one another, the women's knockout stage begins with the top two finishers in Group A receiving byes to the semifinals. The third and fourth place finishers in Group A play the top two finishers of Group B in two “quarterfinal” games with the victors sliding into the two remaining semifinal spots. Winners of the semifinal games go on to play for gold and silver, while the losers face off for bronze. Classification games are also played to determine the final Olympic rankings for teams placing fifth through eighth.

Ice time
Games consist of three 20-minute periods with two 15-minute intermissions. A five-minute 3-on-3 sudden death overtime will be played if preliminary and qualification round games finish the third period in a tie. In the quarterfinals, semifinals and bronze medal game, sudden death time increases to a ten minute period, 4-on-4 overtime. In the gold medal game, a full 5-on-5, 20-minute overtime period will be played if the score is tied at the end of regulation.

If any Olympic ice hockey game is still even at the end of sudden death overtime, a three-round shootout will be used to determine the winner. And if that doesn’t end it, shootout “extras” will be taken, where any skater can take the shot. Or in the case of Team USA forward T.J. Oshie at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, facing Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a single skater can put their team on their back for as many shots as it takes to get the win.

Oshie needed five.


Get ready for hockey at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games

Basics | Qualification | Competition format | NHL vs. Olympic Rules | Penalties and Punishments | Venue | Language of Hockey | Olympic history

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