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World Championship Underway

Eleven players in Caps organization compete in prestigious tournament, p. 2

Friday, 05.02.2008 / 10:55 AM / Features
By Mike Vogel  - WashingtonCaps.com Senior Writer
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World Championship Underway
Latvia hosted the Worlds in 2006, but it has yet to claim a medal in the tournament. None of its players played in the NHL in 2007-08, but defensemen Jekabs Redlihs (Columbus’ fourth-round choice in 2002 NHL Entry Draft) and Krisjanis Redlihs (New Jersey’s fifth-round pick in 2002) were both drafted by NHL clubs.

Up front, Latvia has former NHLers Janis Sprukts and Herberts Vasiljevs as well as Armands Berzins, a 2002 choice of the Minnesota Wild and Lauris Darzins, a Nashville pick in 2003.

Slovenia is hoping merely to avoid relegation to a lower division, and most of those hopes are pinned on Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar having a strong tournament showing. Kopitar is the only NHL player on the squad. Slovenia is drawing some players from the Austrian and Czech Leagues, but 16 of its 28 rostered players are from Slovenia’s Acroni Jesenice, which competes in an Austrian league.

Group C
Finland is looking to shed the label of bridesmaid in 2008. The Finns have placed second six times and third twice in the last 16 years at the Worlds, but have won only once (in 1995) during the same span. That stands as the only Finnish gold in the history of the IIHF World Championships.

The Finns will have Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom in goal, and he will be backed up by Tampa Bay’s Karri Ramo. Nashville’s Ville Koistinen is the only Finnish defender who spent all of 2007-08 in the NHL, but he’ll be joined by ex-NHL blueliner Ossi Vaananen and Caps prospect Sami Lepisto, who played seven games with Washington last season. Lepisto’s godfather is Jari Kurri, who is the GM of Team Finland.

Up front, the Finns will be led by veterans Teemu Selanne (Anaheim) and Olli Jokinen (Florida) as well as young up-and-comer Mikko Koivu (Minnesota). Seven Finn forwards played in the NHL last season and a few others have prior NHL experience.

The Finns should fare well in the preliminary round, but we’ll see what they’re made of afterwards.

Slovakia will rely on Jan Lasak – briefly a Nashville Predator a few years back – and Karol Krizan and Julius Hudacek in goal.

Team Slovakia will be without big defenders Zdeno Chara and Milan Jurcina, who formed the team’s top blueline tandem in Moscow last spring. Three NHLers will be expected to stabilize the Slovakian blueline: Florida’s Branislav Mezei, Buffalo’s Andrej Sekara and the Kings’ Lubomir Visnovsky.

Phoenix’s Marcel Hossa is the lone member of the Slovakian squad who skated in the NHL last season. He’s joined by a handful of former NHL fringe players, including ex-Caps Ivan Ciernik and Andrej Podkonicky.

Germany no longer has veteran Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig between its pipes, but German netminder Robert Muller is a former Caps draft choice (ninth round in 2001). Sharks prospect Dmitri Patzold, who spent most of the 2007-08 season with Worcester of the AHL is also available for netminding duty for the Germans.

The Germans have NHLers Dennis Seidenberg (Carolina) and Cristoph Schubert (Ottawa) on defense, and they’ve also got former NHL blueliner Jason Holland.

Boston’s Marco Sturm is the only NHL player among the German forward ranks. Thirty-four-year-old center Stefan Ustorf is also on the German roster. He was Washington’s third-round choice (53rd overall) in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. Ustorf totaled seven goals and 17 points during his 54-game NHL career with Washington.

Longtime NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp is Team Germany’s head coach.

Norway is another team that will be fighting to avoid relegation. Defenseman Anders Myrvold has 33 games worth of NHL experience with four different teams. The 32-year-old Myrvold played most recently in the NHL in 2003-04 with Detroit.

Group D
Russia was a favorite in last year’s Moscow tournament, and its bronze medal finish was a disappointment to many. This year, the Russians have another strong squad and they’ll be aiming to draw even with the Canadians in all-time gold medal finishes. Currently, Canada has 24 and the U.S.S.R. has 23.

Team Russia is without an NHL-experienced goaltender, but Washington prospect Simeon Varlamov is among the three Russian goaltenders on the roster. Varlamov was the Capitals’ first-round choice (23rd overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

However, Varlamov suffered a foot injury in one of Team Russia’s final practices in preparation for its preliminary round opener against Italy. As a result, he has been left off the team’s roster for the preliminary round, although he can be added back when qualifying round play begins next week.

Russia’s biggest question mark is in goal. Besides Varlamov, the team has Mikhail Biryukov and Alexander Yeremenko.

The backline features NHLers Dmitri Kalinin (Buffalo) and Denis Grebeshkov (Edmonton) along with former NHL player Danny Markov.

A trio of Caps is featured up front, with wingers Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin along with center Sergei Fedorov. That group of Capitals could remain intact as a unit during the tournament. For Fedorov, it will be his first appearance in the World Championships since 1990. He played for the Soviet Union team that won consecutive gold medals in 1989 and 1990.

Another Russian trio likely to remain intact is the group of Danis Zaripov, Alexei Morozov and Sergei Zinovyev, a group that skates together in the Russian Super League for Ak Bars Kazan. Those three remained intact throughout last year’s tournament in Moscow and were among the top lines in the tourney, game in and game out.

For good measure, the Russians will also have Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta), Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo) and Alexander Radulov (Nashville). Fedorov’s younger brother Fedor is also on the team. He has some previous NHL experience with Vancouver and the Rangers.

Few teams can match the Russian’s firepower, but the club’s defense and goaltending will ultimately have a lot to say about how the Russians will fare in the tournament.

The Czech Republic entry in the Worlds features former NHL goaltender Milan Hnilicka and 13 skaters who toiled in the NHL this season. Prominent among those are defensemen Tomas Kaberle (Toronto), Filip Kuba, (Tampa Bay), Zbynek Michalek, and Ladislav Smid (Edmonton) as well as forwards Patrik Elias (New Jersey), Ales Kotalik (Buffalo) and Washington’s Tomas Fleischmann. Winger Jakub Klepis is still a member of the Caps’ organization; he is also on the Czech roster.

The Czechs have won gold five times in the last dozen years, more than any other nation during the same time period.  

Italy’s biggest name is found behind its bench, where former NHL scoring star and Hockey Hall of Famer Michel Goulet will preside.

Most of the names on the playing roster will be barely recognizable to most. Defenseman Carter Trevisani played junior hockey for the Ottawa 67s and was a Carolina draft choice in 2001.

Veteran center Jason Cirone spent the better part of a decade playing in various North American leagues, including a three-game stint with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, the team that drafted him in 1989.

Forward John Parco is a 1991 Flyers draftee who briefly skated in the IHL, AHL and ECHL before going over to Europe for good in 1995.

Denmark’s most notable name is that of Lars Eller, the St. Louis Blues first-rounder (13th overall) in the 2007 Entry Draft. Eller holds the distinction of being the highest drafted player ever from his country. Eller, who will celebrate his 19th birthday next week, has been playing in Sweden.

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