World Hockey Fever

Originally published in Attractions Magazine in 2007

By Lucas Aykroyd

There’s no better time of the year than April and May if you’re an avid hockey fan. Not only are the NHL playoffs in full swing, but there’s also a ton of international hockey excitement taking place at the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Championship. Interest in that 16-nation tournament has increased recently in Canada, particularly since our country captured back-to-back titles in 2003 (in Finland) and 2004 (in the Czech Republic).

The World Championship traditionally takes place in Europe, but that will change in 2008, when Halifax and Quebec City will have the honour of hosting from May 1 to 18. The 2008 tournament will be particularly significant, since it will determine which nations get to participate in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver: the top nine teams in the IIHF World Rankings will qualify directly, and three more will get in via qualifying tournaments in late 2008 and early 2009.

In the meantime, the spotlight is on Moscow, Russia, where the 2007 World Championship runs from April 27 through May 13. There’s immense pressure on several of the “Big Seven” hockey nations to succeed. For instance, the host Russians haven’t won gold at the Worlds since 1993, and the last time the tournament took place in their country (St. Petersburg, 2000), they finished a miserable 11th. They’ll aim to become the first host nation to win on home ice since the last time the tournament was held in Moscow (1986), with help from young snipers like Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin. The Swedes won both Olympic and World Championship gold in 2006, but they’ll have to defend their crown in Moscow without veteran stars like Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin.

And Canada, led by first-time general manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Andy Murray (who won gold at the ’97 and ’03 tourneys), will look to get back on top of the hockey world with a youth-laden roster after finishing fourth last year in Latvia. The two starting goalies from last year’s Stanley Cup finals, Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes and Dwayne Roloson of the Edmonton Oilers, will both be seeking redemption after missing the playoffs this season. Plenty of mobile, skilled BC-grown talent will grace the defence corps, including Dan Hamhuis and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Barret Jackman and Eric Brewer of the St. Louis Blues. Although Sidney Crosby won’t make the trip overseas due to a broken foot, his 18-year-old Pittsburgh teammate Jordan Staal will join big brother Eric (who led last year’s playoff scoring race with Carolina) among the forwards, along with notable names like former Rocket Richard Trophy winner Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, who scored Canada’s winning goal at the 2004 World Cup.

TSN will offer full coverage of Canada’s games, as well as quarter-final, semi-final, and medal round action (check for listings). Sure, the 11-hour time difference between the West Coast and Moscow can make for some early wake-up calls, with many games starting anywhere between 4 am and 9 am for Victoria viewers. But it might not all seem so remote when you consider the contributions that our city has made historically to this annual showcase of skill on the big international ice surface.

Well-known former members of the WHL’s Victoria Cougars who have suited up for Team Canada have included Barry Pederson (1987, fourth place), Grant Fuhr (1989, silver medal), and Geoff and Russ Courtnall (1991, silver medal). And surprisingly, a two-time Cougars scoring leader even went on to star at the Worlds with a European nation. Forward Simon Wheeldon only appeared in 15 NHL games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, but forged a successful pro career in Austria between 1992-93 and 2003-04. He earned Austrian citizenship and suited up for that country at the 1998, 1999, and 2001 World Championships.

Moscow has witnessed some of Canada’s greatest hockey triumphs, from Paul Henderson’s Game Eight winner in the 1972 Summit Series to Canada’s World Junior victory over the Soviets in 1988. There just might be some more magic in store for the red Maple Leaf in 2007. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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