Slovakia has clinched the top place in Group-E of the World Ice Hockey Championship qualifying round with a 3-3 draw against the Czech Republic in Helsinki. The win Monday gives Slovakia a total of nine points from five matches, and equal on points with the second-placed Czechs. Slovakia is the defending world champion while the Czech Republic won three straight titles from 1999-2001. Russia meanwhile slumped to a 5-2 defeat to Group-F leader Canada, which has nine points after five games, three points ahead of Sweden. Russia is in third place with four points. Russia is in danger of an early exit after two consecutive Group-F defeats.
Meanwhile, the United States has ended its worst showing at the World Hockey Championships since 1998 with an 8-1 rout of Japan in the relegation-round finale. Kelly Fairchild, a forward who played in Berlin for a German league team last season, scored a hat trick (three goals) for the Americans. Craig Johnson of the Los Angeles Kings added two goals.
The United States finished with a 2-3 record in the preliminary-round. In the relegation round, the United States beat Belarus, 4-2, Saturday, to narrowly secure a spot in next year's tournament. A loss would have excluded the U.S. team from next year's championships, which is also the qualifying tournament for the 2006 Olympics. Belarus beat Slovenia, 4-3, to finish second in the relegation group. Slovenia was third and Japan fourth. The last three teams drop below the world group to Division One play next year.