By Liam Morgan

The IIHF have announced the qualification process for the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang in 2018 ©Getty ImagesThe International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) men's world rankings after the 2015 World Championships will determine the eight nations who will qualify directly for the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, it has been announced.

The World Championships, scheduled to take place in the Czech cities of Prague and Ostrava from May 1 to 17 this year, are now more vital than ever before as crucial Olympic spots will be at stake.

The women's Olympic competition, which will feature eight teams, will follow a similar format as the top five countries after the 2016 World Championships will seal their place in Pyeongchang.

South Korea's automatic qualification as host nation, added to the eight leading nations from the World Championships, means there will be three remaining places available after the conclusion of the event.

Those berths will be determined by a series of tournaments, starting in November with the Olympic Preliminary Qualification, which will see teams ranked 27th to 36th in the world battle it out for the chance to progress to the Olympic Pre-Qualifying stage, scheduled for February 11 to 14, 2016, encompassing those nations in 11th to 18th place in the world.

Canada took gold in both male and female competitions at Sochi 2014 and they will be hoping for a repeat in Pyeongchang in three years time ©Getty ImagesCanada took gold in both male and female competitions at Sochi 2014 and they will be hoping for a repeat in Pyeongchang in three years time ©Getty Images

The three group winners will then head to the final qualification phase in September 2016, with the victors claiming the remaining spots for the eagerly-anticipated Olympic competition.

The women's qualification programme, due to run from August 2016 to the following September, mirrors that of the men's, although they will feature two groups instead of three.

Details of the locations of the qualification tournaments will be released soon, and men's teams who wish to compete must submit an entry letter by April 2015, and the women have until spring 2016.

Ice hockey is one of the most popular Winter Olympic sports, although the quality of the men's competition at Pyeongchang 2018 remains in doubt with no deal yet agreed for the participation of National Hockey League players in the tournament. 

Canada will, nevertheless, be hoping to continue their monopoly of the event after their men's and women's teams both took gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi.

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