Belarus, Canada, Finland, France, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Switzerland, the US is a list of countries that brings different things to people’s minds, depending on where they’re coming from. Mentally. Where one person sees an interesting vacation itinerary, another can already taste the Canadian maple syrup melt on the French cheese.
Hockey fans see the birth country of the sport, and the reigning world champion team. All of them have some great memories of their team’s games throughout the history of the game. A memorable goal, a big win, a bitter loss.
And if you give a hardcore fan another minute to look at the list, he’ll realize it’s the list of the teams of teams playing in Helsinki at the 2012 World Championship. Especially if you add another list - the Stockholm teams - in the mix: Denmark, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic.
How to win the hearts?
That fantasy poolers will immediately play the tournament in their heads, pondering the chances their own team has.
“Canada is always tough with their NHLers, and Russia surely wants to show the world they’re not done… and Denmark has been good lately, while Kazakhstan is a bit of a dark horse…”
And then there are those who like the event as such, and wonder what kind of colorful fans the tournament will bring to Helsinki and Stockholm.
Because, even if the Finns love their Lions, and the Swedes will support their Tre Kronor through thick and thin, a big part of hosting the World Championship is also just that, being a good host, and finding a second favorite team.
One way to win the hearts and minds of the hosts is to have players or coaches from that country. The Finns rallied behind France in the 1990s when former Team Finland captain Juhani Tamminen was the team’s head coach.
In 2012, it’s Belarus that will probably feel some of that love, with Finnish Kari Heikkilä behind the bench.
Well known in Sweden
Denmark, in turn, now has a Swedish coaching staff in Per Bäckman and Tomas Jonsson, one of the original Triple Gold Club members.
Also, the Swedish hockey fans already know many of the Danish and Norwegian players from their own Elitserien. Goaltender Danish Frederik Andersen plays for the Frölunda Indians, while Norwegian forward Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is Modo’s captain.
Then again, Danish and Norwegian fans have little trouble getting to Sweden.
While the group played in Sweden is a study of neighbourly relations, with Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and the Czech Republic all connected to each other, just as Russia and Latvia share a border, the Helsinki group is a reminder of a changed geopolitical situation in the continent – and in hockey.
Back in 1992 - in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union - Czechoslovakia, too, split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Belarus, Latvia, and Kazakhstan declared independence in 1991.
The Czechs inherited Czechoslovakia’s spot in the top division, Slovakia started its journey two tiers further down, but earned promotion to the top division in 1996. A year after, Belarus, who had played their first (division II) World Championship in 1993, joined Slovakia in the top division. So did Kazakhstan.
Of the “new” nations, Slovakia has fared the best, winning World Championship gold in 2002.
The map of European top hockey was redrawn in the process. Not so long ago.