ZURICH/INGOLSTADT – 16 teams in two tiers will compete in the 2012 IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship that begins on Friday in Ingolstadt, Germany.
The Bavarian city, located between Munich and Nuremberg, will host the most prestigious event of the international inline hockey calendar for the second time in three years after the successful tournament in 2009 with up to 3,600 fans cheering host nation Germany to a bronze medal performance.
After a rather disappointing seventh-place finish last year in Pardubice, Czech Republic, the Germans want to make up for it and offer again a mix of ice hockey pros and inline hockey stars.
“It’s great to be back in Ingolstadt,” said German head coach Georg Holzmann. “It was one of the best organized World Championships also when you talk to other teams.”
Thomas Greilinger, who has just come home from playing in Stockholm at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, will undoubtedly be the local hero. In a hockey career with ups and downs and a three-year time-out from top-level hockey, it was ERC Ingolstadt which offered him a chance to stage a comeback in 2008, and the now 30-year-old repaid the team with numerous great performances, leading toa contract extension for at least three more years.
But Greilinger warns against too much optimism. “Many of the other teams have practised longer than us and swapped the skates with rollerblades earlier than us,” the forward said. “We have to try to adjust as fast as possible.”
Greilinger will be joined by two teammates from the national ice hockey team, Felix Schütz and Michael Wolf, although Wolf’s participation is not sure yet due to an injury.
The Germans will play an exhibition game against New Zealand on Wednesday evening before inviting their opponents to a brewery at the Ingolstadt folk festival, where the Kiwis promised to perform their traditional Maori dance, the Haka, in a festival tent.
A festival is also expected at the two rinks of the Saturn Arena with a mixture of top teams and hockey nations from far away that play in the second-tier tournament that includes, apart from New Zealand, Australia, Japan and a couple of European nations.
German sport fans can enjoy some great days of competition just before the beginning of football’s Euro 2012 with affordable prices starting at €2.50 and going up to €35 for the most expensive tournament pass.
Among the favourites for World Championship gold from the European side are defending champion Czech Republic and Sweden.
Successfully hosting and winning the World Championship at home in Pardubice last year led to increasing registration numbers in the Czech Republic, but this year Petr Hemsky’s team will face a tough challenge in Ingolstadt with fewer players available than on home soil.
Sweden wants to be back among the favourites after having won gold three consecutive times from 2007 to 2009, but last year Tre Kronor went home empty-handed.
Will they be back on top in Ingolstadt, the last place of success for the Swedes? Back after missing last year’s event will be a player from the 2008 and 2009 gold-winning team who is well known to hockey fans: Dick Axelsson, who also represented Sweden in ice hockey.
Sweden will be coached for the first time by former inline hockey star Björn Östlund.
“I’m really looking forward. It’s incredibly cool to go there,” Östlund said about the event in Ingolstadt.
“We will see some new faces and some more experienced ones who have been with the team before,” he said after a try-out camp in Kumla.
Another favourite will be Team USA, which has medalled in each of the last three editions. In 2010 the Americans won gold against the Czech Republic, but last year on home soil the Czechs took revenge in the final.
The Americans will have many participants who play inline hockey as an all-year-sport, but also some ice hockey players such as goalkeeper Jerry Kuhn, this year’s MVP of the ECHL, the third-tier ice hockey league in the U.S.
C.J. Yoder will be representing the U.S. for the seventh time. Five more players return from last year’s team with defencemen Anthony Miner, Rafael Rodriguez, and forwards Junior Cadiz, Shawn Gawrys and Nathan Sigmund.
“Our tryout camp provided a great pool for us to select this year's team,” said head coach Joe Cook. “I really like our mix of players and we are looking forward to begin the tournament.”
The other teams in the Top Division are Canada, Finland, Slovenia and Great Britain, which will play in the top tier for the first time ever after winning the Division I last year.
Note: All 24 games at the main arena will be streamed live on IIHF.com including all games of the Top Division (Groups A+B) and the gold medal game of the second tier, Division I.
Click here for the schedule.