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World Championship Preview: Group A

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I'll try and keep these simple.  Please bear with me...  I'm a Habs fan, and am in mourning.  Plus, I have to pay my taxes tomorrow.  It's a tough week, but the Worlds will help me get over the sorrow.

Germany De_medium

Pre-Championship World Rank:  9
Total WC Medals:  2 Silver, 1 Bronze (none since re-unification)
Total Olympic Medals:  2 Bronze (none since re-unification)
World Cup/Canada Cup:  Particiated 3 times, no Final appearances
Most Recent Championship:  none
2010 Olympic Finish:  11th
2010 World Championship:  4th

This German team has the unenviable job of following up on the 2010 team's performance.  That team used a stifling defensive system, got great goaltending and used the boisterous home crowds to play for a medal, ultimately losing to Sweden.  This year's team hasn't been helped out much at all by the NHL playoffs:  four of the nine German players who played in the NHL this year are playing into the second round (Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Seidenberg, Marcel Goc, Marco Sturm), while Jochen Hecht and Alexander Sulzer had late season injuries and are sitting this one out.  That leaves a duo of Toronto Marlies (AHL) players:  Marcel Mueller and Korbinian Holzer, who made brief NHL debuts this year for the Maple Leafs as the only players on the team that played in the NHL this year.  The team has only 51 games of total NHL experience combined, so at best you're finding former NHL prospects on this roster that never really panned out.

Besides, Mueller, Germany's scoring will largely have to come from DEL stars like captain Michael Wolf, Christoph Ullman, and Philip Gogulla.  Veterans like John Tripp and Daniel Kruetzer will also be counted on.  The defense is rather young, with most players falling in the 21-25 age group.  Robert Deitrich, one of the few with NHL experience, will lead the way, and will be joined by Holzer, Constantin Braun, and NLA player Justin Krueger.  It is quite a large defense, with five of the players standing at 6'3" or higher.  In goal, last year's hero Dennis Endras returns.  He'll be joining the Minnesota Wild farm system next year, ending (for now) his DEL career.  

This is a key tournament for Germany, who could set themselves up quite well for automatic qualification to Sochi in 2014 by qualifying for the quarterfinals again.  However, that could be tough to accomplish on hostile soil.

Russia  Ru_medium 

Pre-Championship World Rank:  1
Total WC Medals:  3 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze (As USSR:  19 Gold, 7 Silver, 4 Bronze)
Total Olympic Medals:  1 Silver, 1 Bronze (As USSR:  7 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze)
World Cup/Canada Cup:  1 Championship (1981), 1 Runner-Up (1987) (both as USSR)
Most Recent Championship:  2009 World Championship
2010 Olympic Finish:  6th place
2010 World Championship:  Silver Medalists

Perhaps no nation takes the IIHF World Championships more seriously than Russia.  With the emergence of the KHL as a major player in the hockey world, the Russians have been able to field teams that are as close to their 'A' team as possible, as only the absolute superstar Russian players play in the NHL nowadays.  All that being said, Russia is the only elite hockey nation that is bringing a weaker squad to Slovakia this year than they did to Germany in 2010.  They were upset in the final last year by a determined Czech team, but such is hockey, where upsets are commonplace.  Russia is still international hockey's top ranked nation, and the pre-tournament favourite according to the oddsmakers.  

The roster is talented, led up front by NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin, Atlanta Thrashers rookie Alexander Burmistrov, and the best player in the KHL, Alexander Radulov, fresh off a Gagarin Cup with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.  The defence features two NHLers:  Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dmitry Kulikov of the Florida Panthers, but KHL players Denis Grebeshkov (SKA St. Petersburg), and perhaps the top pairing in the league in Alexei Yemelin and Ilya Nikulin (Ak Bars Kazan) will be relied upon a lot as well.  In goal, it looks like the controversial Evgeni Nabokov, who was released from a multi-million dollar contract with SKA St. Petersburg back in December, signed in the NHL with Detroit and then was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders and refused to report, will be the starter.  Ilya Bryzgalov didn't say it, but is probably more concerned about staying healthy as he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the NHL.  

(Ed. Note:  Grebeshkov and Burmistrov were left off the final roster, but are staying with the team in case of injury).

Another player to watch is St. Louis Blues first round pick Vladamir Tarasenko, who is making his World Championship debut after leading the U20 team to gold in Buffalo.  

Slovakia  Sk_medium

Pre-Championship World Rank:  8
Total WC Medals:  1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
Total Olympic Medals:  none
World Cup/Canada Cup:  2 appearances, no Finals
Most Recent Championship:  2002 World Championship
2010 Olympic Finish:  4th
2010 World Championship:  12th

Hosting this tournament can be a wonderful boost to both the quality of your roster, and the results.  It appears that nearly every available hand is on deck for Slovakia, with their NHL stars taking the once in a lifetime chance to play for the Championship on home ice.  Marian Gaborik and Michal Handzus said yes to the national team as soon as their NHL teams were eliminated, and Marian Hossa, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Andrej Sekera are expected to join the team as well.  This tournament has to be seen as an opportunity to atone for the painful 4th place finish at the 2010 Olympics, in which the team nearly took Canada to overtime in the semifinals and blew a 3rd period lead in the bronze medal game against Finland.  

Joining the NHLers up front will be team captain Pavol Demitra, and other former NHLers like Ladislav Nagy, Jozef Stumpel, Miroslav Satan and Richard Zednik.  The defense will be led by Visnovsky, Sekera, Milan Jurcina and Ivan Baranka.  It's not the most impressive roster, but at this tournament, it stacks up quite well.  Jaroslav Halak will return as Slovakia's goalie, looking to atone for a somewhat disappointing NHL season.  

This should be a successful tournament for the Slovaks, although the lack of youth on the roster definitely stands out.  This team might earn Slovakia qualification for Sochi in 2014 with a high finish on home ice, but it'll have to be a much different core of players once they get there to be successful.  And judging by their recent junior results, there's not a lot to get excited about beyond 2011.  

Slovenia  Si_medium

Pre-Championship World Rank:  19
Total WC Medals:  none
Total Olympic Medals:  never qualified
World Cup/Canada Cup:  never invited
Most Recent Championship:  none, highest finish 13th at Worlds (twice, most recent in 2005)
2010 Olympic Finish:  didn't qualify, finished 19th overall
2010 World Championship:  Gold Medal in Division 1, Group B

What can be hoped for here?  Not a lot.  Slovenia is a marginal hockey nation right now, who just had their second ever NHL player debut this past season in Jan Mursak.  Mursak is currently one of Detroit's 'black aces' for their playoff run, so he's not available, while superstar centre Anze Kopitar is out with an injury.  Instead, the team will be led by a core of players that almost all play in the EBEL, which is an Austrian based league with two Slovenian teams in it.  The level of Slovenian play is improving, but the team still needs to use about 1/6th of their total registered hockey players to form their national team.  

Staying up in the elite group was always going to be a challenge, but missing Kopitar and Mursak makes it near impossible.  Perhaps the lone bright light on the team is young defenseman Blaz Gregroc, who played in the Elitserien last year as a 21 year old.  Their top forwards are probably Rok Ticar, Ziga Jeglic, and Robert Sabolic, who all played together on HC Jesenice.  In goal, former Elitserien goalie Robert Kristan will see a lot of rubber.  

It's not like Slovenia is guaranteed to be relegated.  This team is capable of winning once the relegation round is sorted out, as beating the likes of France and Austria isn't unreasonable.  But their presence in this Group makes it easy to predict who is moving on.


  • Apr 29:  Germany vs. Russia (4:15 PM local, 10:15 AM EST)
  • Apr 29:  Slovakia vs. Slovenia (8:15 PM local, 2:15 PM EST)
  • May 1:  Russia vs. Slovenia (4:15 PM local, 10:15 AM EST)
  • May 1:  Slovakia vs. Germany (8:15 PM local, 2:15 PM EST)
  • May 3:  Slovenia vs. Germany (4:15 PM local, 10:15 AM EST)
  • May 3:  Russia vs. Slovakia (8:15 PM local, 2:15 PM EST)

Predicted Finish:  1.  Slovakia, 2.  Russia, 3.  Germany, 4.  Slovenia