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Canada sets sights on international double

Scheifele, Trouba among Jets lacing 'em up at world championships

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Watching the Canadian flag raised to the rafters after the gold-medal win at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi this past February is a moment many hockey fans in this country won't soon forget.

That unbeaten Canadian side was absolutely dominant in the Olympic tournament and, in the aftermath, has been dubbed by some as the greatest team ever put together for an international event in our long and glorious hockey history.

As a result, the buildup in this country to the IIHF World Championship that opens this weekend in Minsk, Belarus, doesn't quite feature the same drama as in other years, with Canada's place among hockey's elite already established.

There's no angst about saving face, no government committees about to be established to analyze what's wrong with the game in this country. Olympic gold cures all that.

Mind you, nobody in this country ever grows bored with watching and hearing a collection of sweaty hockey dudes -- or gals -- belt out O Canada after another win on the global stage.

That is a big part of why hockey diehards, during a breather from the Stanley Cup playoffs, might want to turn their attention to what unfolds over two-plus weeks at the worlds.

With that in mind, what follows is our annual handy-dandy guide to the IIHF worlds:

 

THREE REASONS TO WATCH

1. O CANADA, GO CANADA

Before everyone gets all fat and sassy with the back-to-back Olympic golds -- and three of the last four, including 2002 -- consider a Canadian entry at the worlds hasn't won a medal since a silver in 2009 and hasn't won gold since 2007.

The crew in Minsk doesn't include one single player who won gold in Sochi. No Crosby or Toews, Perry, Getzlaf or Price. But it is an interesting collection of talent that does include young stars such as Nathan MacKinnon, Morgan Rielly, Kyle Turris, Sean Monahan and Nazem Kadri, among others.

Canada hasn't exactly wrapped itself in glory in the years where it had the chance to complete an international double-whammy: after winning gold in Salt Lake in 2002, our lads lost to Slovakia in the quarter-finals of the worlds and finished sixth. In 2010, Canada fell 5-2 to Russia in the quarters and finished seventh.

The last team to win Oly gold and world gold in the same year, it's worth noting, was Sweden in 2006.


2. THE WINNIPEG JET CONTENT

-- Centre Mark Scheifele, who had his rookie campaign cut short with a knee injury in early March, will try to salvage some of his season in Minsk. At a practice session Tuesday, he was centring a line featuring Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, both of the Washington Capitals, on the wings. He likely got a lot of love in the selection process from Jets coach Paul Maurice, who is one of Canada's assistant coaches.

-- Two Jets -- defenceman Jacob Trouba and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck -- are part of the American squad. Trouba figures to get big minutes in Belarus while Hellebuyck, who just signed with the Jets after two dominant years at UMass-Lowell, is part of a goaltending trio that includes veteran Tim Thomas and David Leggio of the Hershey Bears. Hellebuyck and Leggio split the chores in Tuesday's 3-1 pre-tournament win over Germany.

-- Veteran Jets centre Olli Jokinen, an unrestricted free agent, will be playing in his 10th worlds for Finland.

-- Defenceman Arturs Kulda, who played so well for Latvia in Sochi, is back patrolling the blue-line for his national team.

-- Alex Burmistrov, who spurned a contract offer from the Jets last summer to sign with Ak-Bars Kazan in the KHL, is on the Russian team. His NHL rights are still owned by the Jets and an intriguing subplot to the worlds will be whether Maurice -- who coached in the KHL -- chats with Burmistrov or his handlers about a possible return to Winnipeg.

 

3. A GLOBAL STAGE

Fans in these parts are certainly fixated on the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the Worlds attract a huge audience overseas. Events like this feature a certain nationalistic fervour only international hockey can provide. The world junior event may be growing, but it doesn't always play well in Europe. The worlds, on the other hand, continually draws big. Minsk is a great hockey town, having led the KHL in attendance in 2011-12 and 2012-13 and still averaged over 10,000 this past season, a down year for the club.

Most of the tickets, which went on sale in September, were sold by the end of November and the final was sold out in seven minutes.

IIHF WORLDS FYI

-- Brandon's own Glen Hanlon is the head coach of the host team from Belarus. Hanlon, who had a stint behind the bench of the Washington Capitals, has also coached the Slovak national team and coached Belarus to a 10th place finish at the 2005 worlds. He was named 'Sportsman of the Year' in 2006 by a Belarusian sports newspaper.

-- Leon Draisaitl, a forward with the Prince Albert Raiders and ranked fourth among North-American skaters heading into the 2014 NHL Draft, will be suiting up for Germany.

 

-- Ex-Jets Tim Stapleton (USA) and Nik Antropov (Kazakhstan) are also playing in the worlds.

-- Other than Maurice, other Jets staff attending the event are European scout Andreas Gozzi and equipment manager Jay McMaster.

-- Last year, Sweden became the first host team to win gold in front of its faithful since the Soviet Union in 1986.

-- TSN Jets broadcasters Shane Hnidy and Dennis Beyak will be working the worlds; Hnidy, alongside Dave Randorf, for all of Canada's games and the playoffs with Beyak calling the American games for TSN2 and NBCSN.

 

THE FORMAT

The 16 teams are divided into two groups for the preliminary round.

The top-four ranked teams of each group advance to the quarter-finals, which will feature a crossover with both groups. The first-place team in each preliminary-round group plays the fourth-place team of the other group, while the second-place team plays the third-place team of the other group. The winning teams advance to the semifinals.

 

PRE-TOURNAMENT RANKINGS/ODDS

Odds courtesy Bodog.ca

1. Russia 9-to-4

2. Canada 3-to-1

3. Sweden 7-to-2

4. Finland 6-to-1

5. Czech Republic 9-to-1

6. United States 12-to-1

7. Switzerland 18-to-1

8. Slovakia 40-to-1

9. Germany 100-to-1

10. Norway 150-to-1

11. Belarus 250-to-1

12. Denmark 250-to-1

13. Latvia 250-to-1

14. France 500-to-1

15. Italy 500-to-1

16. Kazakhstan 500-to-1

 

CANADA'S SKED

(All of Canadian games will be telecast live on TSN with the American contests on TSN2)

Friday, May 9 vs. France, 8:45 a.m.

Saturday, May 10 vs. Slovakia, 12:45 p.m.

Monday, May 12 vs. Czech Republic, 12:45 p.m.

Thursday, May 15 vs. Denmark, 8:45 a.m.

Friday, May 16 vs. Italy, 8:45 a.m.

Sunday, May 18 vs. Sweden, 8:45 a.m.

Tuesday, May 20 vs. Norway, 4:45 a.m.

 

PLAYOFF ROUNDS

All games played at the Chizhovka-Arena and Minsk-Arena in Minsk, Belarus:

Quarter-finals

Thursday, May 22

Semifinals

Saturday, May 24

Gold/Bronze medal games

Sunday, May 25

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2014 C3

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