Russia ready to defend hockey world championship
HELSINKI (AP) -- Russia looks ready to defend its hockey world championship title ahead of its home Olympics in Sochi.
Russia enters the 77th hockey worlds as a favorite following its dominant display in 2012, when the team had NHL players and won all 10 games en route to the title. However, this team consists of players from the domestic KHL team and lacks top stars Yevgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin.
The tournament starts Friday with games split between Stockholm and Helsinki. The two-week tournament wraps up with semifinals and medal games at Globe Arena in Stockholm. Both home teams, Finland and Sweden, will be missing several overseas players.
In Helsinki, Finland takes on 2012 finalists Russia and Slovakia. The U.S., Germany, Latvia, France and Austria will play for a top-four finish to make the quarterfinals to head toward the medal games.
In Stockholm, Canada is pitted against Sweden, the Czechs and Switzerland. Norway, Denmark, Belarus and newcomer Slovenia fill out the group.
In 2012, Canada and the United States placed 1-2 in their preliminary round group. They were ousted in the quarterfinals by one-goal margins, by Slovakia and Finland respectively. Canada's last worlds medal was four years ago. For the Americans, it was a bronze in 2004.
Canada is led by Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal and Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos and Phoenix goalkeeper Mike Smith. Stamkos scored 29 goals and 57 points in 48 games this season to finish second in the goal charts, only one behind Ovechkin. Stamkos has scored more than 200 NHL goals in five seasons.
Sinuhe Wallinheimo, president of the Finnish Professional Ice Hockey Players Association, said the fallout from the NHL lockout will show at the championships.
"The NHL lockout has a huge impact this year because these guys who are coming from the NHL have played 50 games in about 100 days," Wallinheimo said. "It's been physically and mentally very tough for them, and it's going to be interesting to see how much these guys have energy left (for) the world championship games."
Wallinheimo said teams with few NHL players, like Finland, could benefit.
"So, actually that opens up a little bit something extra for teams like Finland this year, who has maybe one NHL player coming up. So there might be a chance for these teams that don't have so many NHL players to upset a little bit," Wallinheimo said.
Last year, Slovakia was a surprise finalist. But its without giant Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, who had an outstanding tournament. The Czech Republic beat Finland for the bronze.
This year both home teams, Finland and Sweden, will be missing several overseas players.
"The normal teams are going to be up there again. There's going to be Russia up there, Team Canada's going to be up there, USA, Team Finland, Czechs," Wallinheimo said. "But I think this year Team Sweden is going to be very good because last year they had a huge disappointment and I think they want to give something back to the fans now, especially because now the finals are in Sweden."