April 30, 2015

PRAGUE (AP) Unlike previous editions, this year's hockey world championship is bringing out the best.

While the Olympic tournaments have been drawing the top players on the planet, the worlds do not usually see an abundance of stars because many of them are still busy in the NHL playoffs.

This year, however, Sidney Crosby wants to lead Canada while Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin hopes to retain the title with Russia.

And they are not alone.

Here are some things to know about the world hockey championships as the tournament returns to the Czech Republic for the first time since 2004:

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DEFENDING CHAMPION

Following a disappointing early elimination at the Sochi Olympics, Russia cruised to its second title in three years last year in Minsk.

The Russians won all 10 of their games, including the 5-2 final victory over Finland.

Alex Ovechkin, who scored 53 goals in the regular season is not available after his Washington Capitals beat the New York Islanders to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs, but Russia still has plenty of attacking talents to be considered a major gold contender again.

Malkin, who scored a goal in the 2014 final and tied Crosby for the Penguins goal-scoring lead during the regular season with 28, will team up with St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who had 37 goals and 36 assists in the regular season and added six goals and an assist in the playoffs.

Also, head coach Oleg Znarok remains in charge of the team captained by former New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, while Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets will again be the goaltender to beat.

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THE STAR

Crosby is the one to make a difference for star-studded Canada.

The forward who helped Canada win two Olympic golds joined the team after the Penguins were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. He led the Penguins with 84 points in 77 games in the regular season and added two goals and two assists in the playoffs.

In his 10 NHL seasons, the forward has scored 302 goals and 551 assists in 627 games. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in 2007 and 2014 and led the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup title.

It will be Crosby's second worlds after 2006.

''Any time you can represent Canada, it's an honor,'' Crosby said. ''I looked at the roster Hockey Canada has put together and I'm excited about the opportunity we have to win gold.''

Canada is looking for 25th title but last won in 2007 and has been waiting for a medal since taking home silver in 2009.

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OTHER STARS

Age is no limit for Jaromir Jagr.

The 43-year-old Czech Republic forward has won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and the world title. But still eager to get more trophies, he is coming out of international retirement.

The veteran has 722 goals and 1,080 assists in his NHL career, which was rejuvenated after he joined the Florida Panthers from the New Jersey Devils in February. He had six goals and 12 assists in 20 games for the Panthers and signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract in April to stay with Florida for a 22nd NHL season.

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THE TOURNAMENT

The tournament will have 16 nations playing in two groups of eight, with the top four in each group advancing.

Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Latvia, Sweden and Switzerland are in Group A with matches to be played at O2 Arena in Prague. Belarus, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States are in Group B and will play in CEZ Arena in the eastern city of Ostrava.

In Friday's opening games, Canada will play Latvia while Finland will face the United States. The final is scheduled for May 17.

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