ZURICH – The preparations are in full swing on at Saturn Arena, the home of the German top ice hockey team ERC Ingolstadt. The 2009 IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship begins on Saturday when Germany opens the tournament against Slovenia.
Reigning champion Sweden belongs to the favourites again, coming to Germany with a team similar to last year’s. The Swedes have won the last two editions of the event and are aiming for a hat trick.
Another trophy would also mean that Sweden could become the lone record title-holder. Since the first event in 1996, Sweden and the United States have won the gold four times each, followed by Finland with three titles.
Two youngsters of the Swedish Elitserien will star on the team.
22-year-old Dick Axelsson, a second-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, will play with the Swedish inline hockey national team in Ingolstadt after having won the ice hockey championship with Färjestad Karlstad. 23-year-old forward Linus Klasen, one of the scoring leaders of Södertälje SK, will join him.
Both belong to the 11 players who were already on the team that won gold last year when the tournament was held in Bratislava. “The team looks good on paper,” the Swedish coach Fredrik Skoog said. “We have a group of experienced players. They are real winners. But it won’t be easy for us. We have won two straight years and I think we are even more hunted now than before.”
The tournament will not only be important for historic reasons for the Swedes. They will host the IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship for the first time next year in Karlstad.
Also Germany, last year’s bronze-medal winner, will count on ice hockey pros. Of the 22 players in the German preliminary roster for the 2009 IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship, 13 players have also played with the ice hockey national team. However, Michael Wolf is the only player on the host team who was on the roster for the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland.
“We hope that the InLine Hockey World Championship will be a huge event,” said Eckard Schindler, the inline hockey chairman of the German Ice Hockey Association. “The arena in Ingolstadt with a separate practice rink offers the best conditions for the tournament. After the third place last year, we hope of course to reach the final.”
Finland cut its roster from 30 to 18 players after two exhibition games on home ice against Sweden (5-8, 5-3). After a sixth-place finish last year, the Finns want to be back in the medal ranks which they had reached in the nine previous tournaments.
Only seven players from last year’s team cracked the 2009 roster, including goalkeeper Sasu Hovi, who plays for Slovakian top team Slovan Bratislava. Other players with experience from top-level ice hockey are Espoo Blues defender Tomi Ståhlhammar, Tappara Tampere forward Sami Ryhänen, KalPa Kuopio forward Teemu Virtala and former TPS Turku back Jesse Saarinen.
“We have a good mix of young and experienced players, who create a positive climate in the team,” Finland head coach Nemo Nokkosmäki describes his team.
Also Slovakia hopes to be a contender for the top spots after the team won the first-ever medal on home ice in Bratislava while the Americans and Czechs are also aiming for more than last year’s fourth and fifth place respectively.
Team Canada, promoted from Division I, relies rather on pure inline hockey players even though they will also have two ice hockey experienced players travelling to Germany with former AHL winger Brendan Brooks and minor league goalkeeper Kevin St. Pierre.
“The 2009 national team will be up against the ultimate challenge, Top Division at the IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship,” recognizes Team Canada head coach Gerry St. Cyr. “We feel the squad we’ve put together and the players themselves are up for the challenge and we expect to do well at the event.”
The players were chosen after four selection camps across Canada in May.
In total, 16 teams are participating in the 2009 IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship divided into two divisions consisting of two groups each. More teams are waiting to join next year’s event in qualifier events.
Also the eight Division I teams have a chance to win Top Division gold. The two last-placed teams of the Top Division group stage and the two group winners of Division I will play qualification games for a berth in the Top Division playoffs.
The divisions and groups of the 2009 IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship:
Group A: Sweden (1), USA (4), Czech Republic (5), Canada (8).
Group B: Slovakia (2), Germany (3), Finland (6), Slovenia (7).
Group C: Austria (9), Australia (12), Japan (13), Chinese Taipei (16).
Group D: Great Britain (10), Brazil (11), Hungary (14), South Africa (15).
A total of 46 games will be played in the two rinks in Ingolstadt. There will be live-ticker coverage for all games on IIHF.com.
Click here for the schedule.