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Get your Jets fix at the worlds

Our primer for that other hockey tourney

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It is THE event on the hockey calendar for many and showcases a number of the world's elite players chasing a coveted championship.

And yet the entire tourney is predominantly met by North Americans with a collective shrug of the shoulders.

But consider this while fans get all wrapped up in the drama of the Stanley Cup playoffs: the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, which begin Friday in Finland and Sweden, is billed as the biggest annual winter sports event worldwide.

Now, we know what some of you might be thinking: even the dullest NHL playoff game beats the heck out of France vs. Kazakhstan at the worlds. No argument there, whatsoever.

But here are three reasons why the event might be worth your attention over the next 16 days and a collection of other tidbits in our handy-dandy worlds primer:

1. THE WINNIPEG JETS CONTENT

Suiting up for Canada are Jets captain Andrew Ladd and leading goal-scorer Evander Kane; Jim Slater is on the American squad while Alex Burmistrov will be representing Russia.

There could have been more but Ondrej Pavelec (who starred last year for the Czech Republic) is not playing and neither are Tobias Enstrom (Sweden) and Americans Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien, all of whom were approached but ended the season battling or recovering from injuries.

Last week Ladd said this about facing a Jet teammate like Slater at the worlds:

"It's funny... if you've been around awhile you're playing against guys you've known for a long time all the time in the NHL. You get used to it. Most of us are so competitive you want to beat the guy so bad anyway. There's more incentive to do better."

When it was suggested that he'd never hear the end of it if the Americans were to win, Ladd grinned and added: "No... so that's not going to happen."

 

2. THE RANKINGS

Before you get all high and mighty about Canada's place in international hockey's pecking order, consider this: Sidney Crosby's golden goal in Vancouver was more than two years ago and, since then, our lads have stumbled at the worlds, finishing fifth last year and seventh in 2010. That has dramatically affected our IIHF ranking, now fifth.

This tournament's final standings are massive as it sets up the seeding and qualifying for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The top nine countries earn byes to the Olympics with three more berths coming from qualifying tournaments that will be held during the NHL season.

 

3. THE OLY RADAR

It's never too early to make a good first impression, as the saying goes, and already national hockey federations have begun piecing together tentative rosters for Sochi in 2014. Ladd said when Team Canada officials called, he jumped at the opportunity to keep playing but also admitted playing in an event like this 'doesn't hurt' a guy's chances for 2014.

Worth noting: four members of Team Canada are making their third consecutive trip to the worlds -- Jordan Eberle and Devan Dubnyk (Edmonton), John Tavares (New York Islanders) and Kane (Winnipeg). That speaks of their skill set, their patriotism and, yes, how lousy their NHL teams have been over the last three years.

WORLDS FYI

No host team has won the tournament since the Soviet Union in 1986. Finland, co-hosting the event with Sweden, is attempting to become the first team since the Soviets in 1979 to defend a gold medal on home ice.

Team Canada's lineup features three 2010 Olympians -- Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Duncan Keith.

Former Buffalo Sabres/New York Islanders boss Ted Nolan, the NHL's Coach of the Year in 1996-97, is the head coach of Latvia.

Former Winnipeg Jet assistant coach (mid-'90s) Zinetula Bilyaletdinov is the Russian head coach.

Petr Nedved, now 40, will be making his IIHF debut for the Czechs. Nedved defected to Canada and represented our country at the 1994 Olympics, but also the Czechs at the World Cup.

Ladd's scouting report on Team Canada: "We've got a lot of skilled forwards, we've got some 'D' that can move the puck and some great goaltenders. At the end of the day with Brent Sutter coaching you're going to have a hard-nosed team and we're going to play hard. It's just about finding roles and everybody buying in."

Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray, eligible for this June's NHL draft and ranked second by Central Scouting, is seeing regular ice time with Canada.

Canada's captain will be Getzlaf, with Dion Phaneuf and Patrick Sharp wearing the 'A'.

The Jets' Slater was named Thursday as one of U.S.A.'s assistant captains along with Nate Thompson of Tampa. Jack Johnson of Columbus will be the American captain.

THE FORMAT

A new format sees the 16 countries split into two groups, using the IIHF rankings. Each team will play seven preliminary-round games with the top four teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals. Teams that finish last will be relegated to Division 1.

The tournament will see 64 games played with the top teams having to play 10 games to reach the final.

 

PRE-TOURNAMENT RANKINGS

1. Finland

2. Sweden

3. Russia

4. Czech Republic

5. Canada

6. U.S.A.

7. Switzerland

8. Germany

9. Norway

10. Slovakia

11. Belarus

12. Denmark

13. Latvia

14. France

15. Austria (relegated to Division 1)

16. Kazakhstan

17. Italy

 

CANADA'S SKED

(All of Canada's games will be televised by TSN)

Friday, May 4 vs. Slovakia

Saturday, May 5 vs. U.S.A.

Monday, May 7 vs. France

Wednesday, May 9 vs. Switzerland

Friday, May 11 vs. Finland

Saturday, May 12 vs. Kazakhstan

Tuesday May 15 vs. Belarus

 

PLAYOFF ROUNDS

Quarter-finals

May 17 in Helsinki and Stockholm

Semifinals

May 19 in Helsinki

Gold/Bronze medal games

May 20 in Helsinki

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2012 C3

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