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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Are they world-beaters?

Canada's team is loaded with NHL stars but no one really knows how they'll stack up on a global stage

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Sometime in late June, NHL czar Gary Bettman will call upon the captain of the freshly minted Stanley Cup champion squad and hand over the ol' mug to then be caressed, kissed and paraded around before an international television audience.

 

And that club -- 16 remain in the fight as the chase opened this week -- will be praised as the best of the best, the kings of hockey... except that a month earlier than that -- on May 19 to be exact -- the International Ice Hockey Federation will also crown a champion and that squad will also be praised as the best of the best, the kings of hockey.

Yes, we've reached that time of year when two hockey worlds collide -- the NHL and the IIHF -- with the sport's elite chasing fame and glory on two different continents. And while the fight for Stanley has always been the most-riveting drama here in North America, the pursuit of the world title can be just as compelling theatre, especially to those in Europe.

In fact, the IIHF world championship, which begin this weekend in Finland and Sweden, is annually billed as "the biggest annual winter sports event worldwide."

With that in mind, here are three reasons why hockey fans who can't get enough of the Stanley Cup playoffs might want to divert their bleary eyes periodically to Finland and Sweden as part of our annual handy-dandy guide to the IIHF worlds:

 

1. THE WINNIPEG JETS CONTENT

Jets captain Andrew Ladd will wear an alternate captain's 'A' in Sweden, it was announced Thursday, along with Stephane Robidas of the Dallas Stars. The captain will be Carolina Hurricanes' star and 2010 Olympian, Eric Staal.

Ondrej Pavelec skipped out on playing for the Czech Republic last year but is back this spring and he instantly makes his team contenders. The Czechs have medalled at three straight worlds -- bronze the last two years and gold in 2010.

Defenceman Arturs Kulda, who signed with the Jets in March after a season in the KHL but did not suit up for a game, will play for Latvia.

Arguably the most interesting Jets player participating at the worlds is 2012 first-round draft pick Jacob Trouba of the United States. He's still only 19 and didn't suit up for the Jets after joining the club late in the season, but there are many who believe he is NHL ready right now. What he does at the worlds -- with Jets brass watching -- will be one of the tourney's best subplots.

 

2. UH-OH CANADA?

Worth noting as all us patriots in this country continue to thump our chests as to our spot on the international stage: Sidney Crosby's golden goal in Vancouver was now more than three years ago and since then Canada has finished fifth in consecutive springs and seventh in 2010. That hardly screams out powerhouse.

But this year's squad is stacked, particularly up front, with Staal, Ladd, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle; has a solid defensive corps that includes Robidas, Brian Campbell, Luke Schenn, Justin Schultz and Jay Harrison, has Mike Smith and Devan Dubnyk to tend the goal and Lindy Ruff behind the bench.

Expect a national inquiry if this crew doesn't medal in the most important tourney heading into Sochi.

 

3. THE OLYMPIC RADAR FACTOR

Playing in the worlds guarantees nothing for players who dream of wearing their country's colours in Sochi, but is sure as heck can't hurt.

That's why this is a big event for Ladd who, coming off a stellar season in which he led the Jets in scoring, has muscled his way into the 2014 discussion. He's got two Cup rings as a third-line/checking forward and has proven himself to be one of the best left wingers in the NHL. Does that versatility help him earn a coveted Olympic spot?

Ditto for Pavelec, who was a third-stringer at the Vancouver Olys, but could solidify a place on the Czech depth chart for next winter.

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 C4

History

Updated on Friday, May 3, 2013 at 9:40 AM CDT: adds fact box

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