MANNHEIM – The World Championship started last night with a special game, a 2-1 win by the host Germans against the United States, in overtime, before a world record crowd of 77,803 in Gelsenkirchen. The rest of the 56-game schedule kicks off today, so now is the time to look at the Top ten countdown to the most important stories of this IIHF championship.
10. Dmitri Kulikov set to make Russian history
It was on June 12, 1990 that Russia declared independence from the old Soviet Union, and as soon as Dmitri Kulikov steps on the ice for his first game, he will make modern Russian history. Born on October 29, 1990, he will be the first player born in the “new” Russia to play at a senior international event for his country.
9. Irbe the last of the small goalie
Later in the World Championship – May 23, to be exact – the IIHF will induct five new members into its hall of fame, among whom will be Arturs Irbe, the little Latvian who carried his team on his shoulders for many years. He might well be the last of the diminutive goalies, the position now almost demanding size a la Luongo, Lundqvist, and Kiprusoff.
8. The 16-team debate heats up again
One of the greatest successes of the Vancouver Olympics was the tournament format, one that cannot be administered with anything but a 12-team setup. Can the IIHF maintain 16 teams as it would like, or does it take from Vancouver and reduce the number of teams in the top division?
7. Germany’s second chance
Avoiding relegation last year only because it was host country this year, Germany started off the tournament with a huge win last night. Can it keep this momentum going? The difference between an average finish (9th-12th place) and an excellent one (5th-8th) is likely one key win in the Qualification Round. Can they pull it off?
6. What young star will emerge?
This being an Olympic year, and the NHL playoffs still only in the second of four rounds, the World Championship features more great young players this year than any other. Dozens of kids are being given a great chance to shine. Who will shine brightest?
Is Alexander Ovechkin a Russian player or an NHL player? He celebrated the 2008 World Championship gold like his life depended on it, but he has yet to produce a great performance for the Washington Capitals when it matters the most – the Stanley Cup playoffs. He has never said no to his country, and Germany is no exception. From all appearances, he loves the NHL – but he lives for the top international events. Still, he and his great teammates disappointed in Vancouver, and many are here with him to try to redeem themselves.
4. Corey Perry and the Canadian double
The only member of Canada’s Olympic gold team to come to Germany, Corey Perry is trying to make history in two ways. A World Championship gold would make him one of only nine players to do the double (all previous eight came from Sweden in 2006), and it would also make him the 24th member of the Triple Gold Club.
As the NHL struggles to maintain high standards of obstruction in its current playoff year, the IIHF must remain vigilant in keeping hooking, slashing, and interference out of the game, especially on plays off the rush which produce the most exciting and dramatic hockey.
2. Nummelin’s incredible record
Petteri Nummelin made his World Championship debut in 1995 as a 22-year-old, winning gold for the first and only time in Finland’s history. Since then he has played in a total of 14 World Championships and added five silver medals and two bronze medals to his collection. He will be presented with a plaque honouring his record-breaking 15th Championship, a record for superior play and longevity that might never be broken.
1. Can teams produce hockey to make you forget it’s an Olympic year?
Let’s face it, it’s been a long hockey year. The Olympics was a great success and produced arguably the greatest final game in the tournament’s 90-year history. And now nine weeks later, we have a World Championship. There are so many good players here, though, we know we’ll see some great hockey. Nothing will make one forget Sidney Crosby’s golden goal of February 28, but teams have a chance to make their own history here anyway. Let’s see who steps forward.