The 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Slovenia will be one of the biggest Division I events ever, with a new format and over 10,000 fans expected to fill the Arena Stozice in Ljubljana.
Starting this season the events below the top tier have a new structure. While the two groups in a division had been at equal level before, Group A and Group B are now composed of two separate tiers.
The changes were approved by the IIHF Annual Congress in May 2011 to increase competition and the quality of the game – with visible effects during the various U20 events held in December and January.
For the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A, the new format means that the best six teams below the Top Division will play in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The top two nations to come out of this tournament will be promoted to the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Sweden and Finland.
Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Great Britain, Japan and Ukraine are expected to offer each other tight clashes for the first two places of the event. Five out of these six teams have played in the Top Division in the last ten years, with only Great Britain’s last experience among the elite nations dating back earlier, in 1994.
Two other elements make the anticipation for the event bigger than in past competitions. Firstly, it will be an event with neighbourly clashes. The Austrian border is only a 45-minute drive away from the Slovenian capital, and from the border with Hungary it’s slightly more than two hours by car. The top clubs of these three countries play together in the Austria-based league EBEL.
Secondly, the event will be played at a new state-of-the-art, multifunctional arena and not at the city’s traditional rink Hala Tivoli. Two years ago the capacity of 4,000 seats was far too low to satisfy the ticket demand from the hockey-crazy Slovenian and Hungarian fans for the deciding game for promotion (the home team won 4-1). This time there will be enough space for an even more exciting atmosphere, both in the arena, and outside in the fan village.
This year’s venue will be the Arena Stozice, with a seating capacity of 10,000 for hockey games. The arena was opened in 2010 as part of the Stozice Sports Park that also includes a newly-built football stadium.
Several sports events have been held at the venue in the last two years, including basketball, handball, and volleyball games. It was also the home arena of Slovenian boxer Dejan Zavec when he defended his IBF world title. World-renowned performers of different generations have come to the arena such as David Guetta, Elton John, Joe Cocker, José Carreras and Sting.
The 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A will mark the first world championship tournament in any sport for the arena, and it will be the first opportunity to turn Slovenia’s prime indoor sports venue into a hockey arena.
At a recent site visit the plans to put in an ice rink were approved, although it won’t be without challenge as the arena was not primarily built for hockey. An international-size ice rink (61x30 metres) is significantly bigger than a court for handball (40x20m) or basketball (28x15m).
Due to the bigger rink some rows of seats will be taken away and the arena will be able to accommodate 10,000 spectators with all the comfort of a state-of-the-art facility for fans and players, and a genuine hockey atmosphere of this small country that brought out world-class players such as the Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar and Detroit’s Jan Mursak.
A video cube will show the game and replays. However, due to the arena construction optimized for sports played on smaller areas than hockey, visibility to the ice rink will be restricted from some sectors of the arena, which is reflected in the fan-friendly ticket prices ranging from €4 to €20 per game depending on the seating category.
The architecturally and visually sophisticated facility is divided into a lower ring (green level), the VIP area and the upper ring (red level).