Superficially, this year’s IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship might seem a lot like the 1995 edition: it’ll take place after a shortened 48-game NHL season due to the past labour conflict, and the final will be in Stockholm, Sweden. But there’ll be some big differences.
First, the timing of the World Championship is different. The 2013 tournament will start on May 3, and the NHL playoffs commence on April 30. In 1995, the tournament kicked off on April 23, and the NHL playoffs didn’t start until May 6.
So in 1995, no active NHLers were available to take part, and the North American teams were stocked with AHLers, European pros, and college players. Canada’s Andrew McKim, who’d starred for the Adirondack Red Wings that year, won the scoring title with 13 points in eight games as his team claimed bronze.
In 2013, there will be NHLers. Some clubs will be mathematically eliminated before the season ends. More names will be added as of April 27, the last day of the regular season. It’s also likely some nations will add key players eliminated in the first round before the World Championship quarter-finals on May 16.
Second, don’t overlook the Olympic factor. In 1995, the Nagano Winter Games were just under three years away. There wasn’t a particular urgency to audition players for Olympic roster spots. While a final agreement for the NHL to go to Nagano was in the works, it was only rubber-stamped at the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in Budapest, Hungary in the fall of 1995.
In 2013, although NHL participation at next year’s Sochi Olympics still awaits official confirmation, national ice hockey associations are still certainly preparing with that eventuality in mind. And thus, if they have NHLers who are on the bubble for Sochi, those guys need to get a chance to strut their stuff on the big ice in Sweden and Finland if they’re available.
Third, the KHL will make a significant difference in terms of providing talent for this year’s tournament. In 1995, Russia’s economy and society were in chaos after the fall of communism. There’d been a mass exodus of talent to North America. In fact, almost every Russian player of consequence at the time was either in the NHL or gearing up to come over.
Want proof? Simply check out the list of all 50 Russian NHLers in 1995.
It includes Nikolai Borshevski (Toronto), Sergei Brylin (New Jersey), Pavel Bure (Vancouver), Valeri Bure (Montreal), Vyacheslav Butsayev (San Jose), Sergei Fyodorov (Detroit), Vyacheslav Fetisov (Detroit), Sergei Gonchar (Washington), Alexei Gusarov (Quebec), Valeri Kamensky (Quebec), Valeri Karpov (Anaheim), Alexander Karpovtsev (New York Rangers), Alexei Kasatonov (Boston), Darius Kasparaitis (New York Islanders), Yuri Khmylev (Buffalo), Vladimir Konstantinov (Detroit), Igor Korolev (Winnipeg), Andrei Kovalenko (Quebec), Alexei Kovalyov (New York Rangers), Viktor Kozlov (San Jose), Vyacheslav Kozlov (Detroit), Igor Kravchuk (Edmonton), Sergei Krivokrasov (Chicago), Igor Larionov (San Jose), Andrei Lomakin (Florida), Sergei Makarov (San Jose), Vladimir Malakhov (New York Islanders, Montreal), Boris Mironov (Edmonton), Dmitri Mironov (Toronto), Alexander Mogilny (Buffalo), Yevgeni Namestnikov (Vancouver), Andrei Nazarov (San Jose), Sergei Nemchinov (New York Rangers), Andrei Nikolishin (Hartford), Roman Oksiuta (Edmonton, Vancouver), Oleg Petrov (Montreal), Alexander Selivanov (Tampa Bay), Alexander Semak (New Jersey, Tampa Bay), Anatoli Semyonov (Anaheim, Philadelphia), Mikhail Shtalenkov (Anaheim), German Titov (Calgary), Andrei Trefilov (Calgary), Denis Tsygurov (Buffalo), Igor Ulanov (Winnipeg, Washington), Andrei Vasiliev (New York Islanders), Alexei Yashin (Ottawa), Dmitri Yushkevich (Philadelphia), Valeri Zelepukin (New Jersey), Alexei Zhamnov (Winnipeg), and Sergei Zubov (New York Rangers).
Compare that to 2013, when 28 Russians – just over half as many – have suited up in the NHL. That’s because the high salaries and improved working conditions in the KHL have kept many at home.
Plenty of top KHLers are available for Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov at the 2013 tournament. Gold-medal winners like forwards Alexander Radulov (CSKA Moscow), Yevgeni Kuznetsov (Traktor Chelyabinsk), Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk), Nikolai Zherdev (Ak Bars Kazan) and Alexander Popov (Avangard Omsk) and defencemen Ilya Nikulin (Ak Bars Kazan), Dmitri Kalinin (SKA St. Petersburg), and Yevgeni Biryukov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) could all play in Russia’s May 4 opener against Latvia.
While the KHL’s existence benefits Russia most at the Worlds, other nations could take advantage too.
For instance, at February’s Oddset Games in Sweden (part of the Euro Hockey Tour), 15 of Czech coach Alois Hadamczik’s players hailed from the KHL. That included notables like forwards Jiri Novotny (Lev Prague), Petr Prucha (SKA St. Petersburg), and Jakub Petruzalek (Dynamo Moscow) and defencemen Lukas Krajicek (Dynamo Minsk), Tomas Mojzis (Slovan Bratislava), and Petr Caslava (Severstal Cherepovets).
And Jukka Jalonen’s Finnish team was loaded with seven KHLers, from forwards Tuomas Kiiskinen (Donbass Donetsk) and Juha-Pekka Hytönen (Amur Khabarovsk) to defencemen Janne Niskala (Dynamo Minsk) and Mikko Mäenpää (CSKA Moscow).
There’s always a chance the Finns will replicate 1995 by beating host Sweden 4-1 in the gold medal game at Stockholm’s Globen Arena while their fans gleefully sing the bouncy Swedish hockey anthem, “Den Glider In”.
However, if they do, they’ll have to accomplish that feat without Suomi stalwart Ville Peltonen, who led the way with a hat trick in the ‘95 final. The 39-year-old HIFK Helsinki captain has been plagued by concussions this season, and hasn’t suited up for the national team in IIHF competition since the 2010 Olympics.