For the first time at the Paralympic Winter Games, the Para ice hockey tournament will feature the top four-ranked teams together in Group A followed by the next four in Group B, as opposed to splitting them up evenly by ranking.
This new competition format, which began at the beginning of this Paralympic cycle at the Ostrava 2019 World Championships A-Pool, is meant to make for more parity within each group and offer more exciting games during the preliminary round.
Group A includes No. 1 USA, No. 2 Canada, No. 3 RPC, and No. 4 Korea. Group B consists of No. 5 Czech Republic, No. 6 Italy, No. 7 Slovakia, and No. 8 China.
The top two finishers in Group A will automatically advance to the semi-finals, while the top two finishers in Group B will challenge the bottom two finishers in Group A for the other semi-final spots at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
GROUP A PREVIEW
The entire Paralympic podium from PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games returns, with the USA, Canada and Korea looking to go for more medals, while the RPC will be back in Paralympic play for the first time since winning silver in Sochi eight years ago.
Led by captain Josh Pauls and TikTok sensation Jack Wallace, the USA will have a target on its back in every game it contests as it goes for its record-extending fourth consecutive and fifth overall Paralympic gold.
The Americans will begin their preliminary round on 5 March against arch rivals Canada, who are looking to return to the top of the podium for the first time since the Gangneung 2017 World Championships A-Pool.
The Canadians will be led by forwards Tyler McGregor and Liam Hickey, with support and experience from six-time Paralympian Billy Bridges and five-time Paralympian Greg Westlake.
While they were off the international scene for a number of years, the RPC is ranked third in the group after taking bronze at last year’s World Championships.
In search of their second Paralympic medal, RPC will be anchored by long-time forward Dmitrii Lisov and goaltender Andrei Kasatkin, who recorded three shutouts at last year’s World Championships.
They will open the preliminary round against Korea, who are working to build a Para ice hockey legacy in their country after winning bronze at their home Games. Superstar Seung-Hwan Jung was the team’s leading scorer for a fourth consecutive World Championships last year.
GROUP B PREVIEW
Group B will look to separate the contenders from the pretenders during the preliminary round, beginning with a matchup that pits an experienced team from the Czech Republic against a young Italian squad.
The Czechs are the top seed in the group after finishing in fifth place at their home World Championships last year. In search of their first Paralympic medal, they will be led by star forward Michal Geier, the Most Valuable Player at the Ostrava 2019 Worlds with seven goals and four assists, and a dynamic duo of goaltenders in Michal Vapenka and Martin Kudela.
Italy will have three-time Paralympians Nils Larch and Andrea Macri, and four-time Paralympian Gianluigi Rosa, but will also sport a crop of young talent as it looks ahead to Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Paralympic Games, including rising stars Nils Larch and Alex Enderle.
The final two teams, China and Slovakia, will be making their Paralympic debuts in the sport and will face each other on Day 1 of competition.
Slovakia began its Para ice hockey team 13 years ago and Martin Joppa, who scored the country’s first international goal, will headline the squad. He led all skaters at the Paralympic Qualification Tournament with nine points, including six goals and three assists.
China, which started a team more recently when it was awarded the 2022 Games, won all five of its contests at the 2021 World Championships B-Pool, with Yi Feng Shen named the Best Forward at the event.