Well folks it’s that time of the year again. In most years prior to our current chronological stop, the NHL playoffs are in full swing and the World Championships are but a headline for those whose teams have hit the golf course; this year with no NHL playoffs however, all eyes will be on Austria as the worlds best converge on Vienna for the 2005 instalment of the World Championships.
Who’s the hottest team going into the tourney?
Let’s of course start with two time defending Champion Team Canada, who are putting in a star-studded line-up that could potentially crush anyone in its way. Starting between the pipes the Canadians have Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco; three strong goaltenders, two of which have multi-international tournament gold’s on their mantle pieces will surely be the best in the tournament. Luongo has minded the net in Canada’s past two World Championship victories, while Brodeur has staked his claim as Canada’s number one goalie in recent years.
On defence the Canadians have a strong mix of young and experienced with Ed Jovanovski as the leader, with Scott Hannan, Wade Redden and the rest of the gang making up a strong back end.
Up front the Canadians have an all-star games worth of talent, with Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Brendan Morrison, Shane Doan, Simone Gagne, Rich Nash and Ryan Smyth all known to score goals. Other notables are two-thirds of the Red Wings grind line, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby who will be key as the energy line and penalty kill specialists.
If Canada does not win, it’ll be a shock.
There are other teams in the tournament though, and most certainly other teams that could win.
Group A consists of Slovakia, Russia, Austria and Belarus, but the only real threats on paper appear to be Slovakia and Russia.
Slovakia’s firepower will mainly come from known NHL snipers Pavol Demitra, Marian Hossa and Zigmund Palffy, however beyond that they don’t look to have much depth, as their other main NHLer is Ottawa Senators giant Zdeno Chara. They could be dangerous still though.
The biggest foreseeable problem for the Russians is in net, where they are missing goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin; but the Russians are always dangerous and these days the young crop is jumping right into the senior men’s teams very quickly, with young guns Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin in the line-up alongside the Red Wings dangler Pavel Datsyuk, and Dany Heately’s snipe-partner and team hotshot Ilya Kovalchuk. If Canada and Russia meet up, it’ll be a huge one.
Group B houses Canada, the United States, Latvia and Slovenia; where only Canada and the US seem to be real threats to one another with Slovenia relying on a 17-year old prospect and Latvia using only two NHLers.
With the United States there appears to be a bit of a ‘changing of the guard’ as a lot of the names synonymous with the team of recent years won’t be joining them this year. Mike Modano and Doug Weight are the veterans that will be leading the charge with Ty Conklin and Rick DiPietro minding the nets. Other notable names are Mark Parrish, Mike Knuble, Yan Stastny, Erik Cole, Mike York and young gun Jordan Leopold. Could be dangerous, especially against Canada or Russia where rivalries run deep as does pride.
In Group C you’ll find Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Ukraine. While Finland tends to be dangerous, they will be missing their entire top line and that should hurt them in the offensive. Sweden seems to be the only real threat coming out of this group, although they’re suffering a sub-par line-up as well.
The Swedes, like the Russians always seem to send out a dangerous team, although this year they’ll be missing notable pillars such as Peter Forsberg, Marcus Naslund and Mats Sundin up front, and Niklas Lidstrom in the back. They will still have impressive young gun Henrik Zetterberg and the not as impressive twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin as well as the leadership (and sick flow) of Daniel Alfredsson, with Kenny Jonsson and Mattias Norstrom rounding out the notable names. Like the Russians, the Swedes main problem is between the pipes, although most of the team played in Sweden this year, which could be beneficial in the long run.
Group D is the final group, with the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and Kazakhstan filling the slots. The main threat in this group is the Czech Republic who, along with the Canadians, are among the pre-tournament favourites.
The Czech’s have a line-up studded with NHLers young and old, with depth almost touching Canada’s. Young players like Ales Hemsky and Martin Havlat could be a big surprise when the tournament opens up, while the scoring presence of Jaromir Jagr, Peter Sykora and Martin Straka won’t hurt. Young defenseman Jiri Fischer of the Detroit Red Wings has big things coming his way, while the Czech line-up also boasts names like Tomas Kaberle, Jarosalv Spacek and Pavel Kubina among many others. Tomas Vokoun rounds out a solid line-up as one of the top goaltenders of the tournament capable of taking them the distance.
KERRZY’S PREDICTION: I’m knocking on wood right now as I type this, but I fully expect to see Canada in the finals. It’ll be either the Czechs or the Russians on the other side of that opening faceoff on April 15th.