Who's chasing Canada for the gold?
Austria joins perennial powers in 2010 tourney
By Darren Zary, Canwest News Service
December 24, 2009
Team Canada gets ready for a group photo at Regina's Brandt Centre after final player selections were announced last week. The Regina Pats' Jordan Eberle, centre bottom, is one of six returnees from last year.Photograph by: Don Healy, Canwest News Service, Canwest News Service1. AUSTRIA: Austria comes in as a bit of an unknown entity. Promoted to the top division after beating Denmark a year ago, Austria is making only its third appearance at the elite level. Austria also played in the 1981 and 2004 tournaments. It's a young, inexperienced team, led by captain Dominique Heinrich, with 10 First Division players and five who play international hockey, including defenceman Stefan Ulmer from the WHL's Spokane Chiefs and G Marco Wieser from the North American Hockey League's Alpena Ice Diggers. Forwards Konstantin Komarek (Lulea HF, Sweden), Kevin Puschnik (EC Red Bull Sulzburg) and Peter Schneider (HC Orli Znojmo, Czech Republic) are the team's top players in Europe.
Austria was winless in 9 WJHC games in 1981 and 2004.
The goal of this underdog is clear. "We're going to Canada to stay in the top division and to continue playing with the big nations," head coach Dieter Werfring says.
Best finish: Eighth, 1981
2. CZECH REPUBLIC: The Czechs haven't won a medal at the world juniors since claiming bronze in 2005 and are trying to recapture their glory from the turn of the century when they won back-to-back gold in 2000 and 2001. Lately, the Czechs have become also-rans, finishing fifth or sixth the past four years, each time with a 4-2 record in the round robin, only to lose in the quarter-finals.
GM Jiri Latal and head coach Jaromir Sindel have assembled a team led by captain Michal Jordan, a 2008 draft pick of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes who is in his third worlds. The team has plenty of North American junior experience.
"It is pretty experienced in the international game, while several guys have played at the U20 and U18 worlds before," said Pavel Barta, Czech Ice Hockey Association media manager. "But on the other hand, the squad might be quite unreadable, unpredictable for its opponents."
Key players include G Jakub Sedlacek, Radko Gudas (Everett Silvertips, WHL), Jakub Jerabek, Andrej Nestrasil, Roman Horak, Stepan Novotny (Swift Current Broncos, WHL) and Petr Straka.
Best finish: Gold, 2000, '01
3. FINLAND: Teemu Hartikainen, who led Finland with nine points at the 2009 tournament in Ottawa, returns in 2010 along with fellow Finnish forwards Joonas Nattinen and Joonas Rask.
Finland's Jyri Niemi, a 19-year-old draft pick of the New York Islanders, will patrol the blueline for the Flying Finns, who ranked sixth on the power play and third on the penalty kill a year ago.
Finland's preliminary roster includes five players from Canada's major junior ranks: Niemi, defenceman Rasmus Rissanen from the WHL's Everett Silvertips, left-winger Toni Rajala from the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, left-winger Matias Sointu from the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves and goalie Petteri Simila from the OHL's Niagara Ice Dogs.
Best finish: Gold, 1987, '98
4. RUSSIA: No team has won more medals at the world junior hockey championship than Russia and the former Soviet Union, with 28 (12 gold, nine silver and seven bronze).
Russia, which lost in a shootout to Canada in the semifinals last year and ended up finishing third, is expected to be led by last year's captain, Nikita Filatov, a first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2008 draft. Filatov has played in 21 NHL games with the Jackets the past two seasons, but was loaned back to the Kontinental Hockey League's CSKA Moscow Army and quickly racked up 10 points in six games.
Filatov finished tied for the tournament lead with eight goals last year while leading Russia with 11 points. He was named to the all-star team.
Best finish: Gold, 1977, '78, '79, '80, '83, '84, '86, '89, '92, '99, 2002, '03
5. SWEDEN: Sweden has won the world junior title only once, back in 1981.
After settling for silver the past two years as the result of losses to Canada, Sweden is a heavy medal favourite this time. Sweden looks to be the strongest European entry after winning the under-20 Four Nations tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia, thanks in part to a big 4-2 win over host Russia.
Jacob Markstrom, who was named top goalie at the 2009 world juniors in Ottawa last year, and speedy forward Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson are among the eight returnees for Sweden's Young Crowns.
Of the 21 players on Sweden's roster, 18 are drafted by NHL clubs, 13 of those selected last June.
On defence, coach Par Marts will rely heavily on a Skelleftea AIK trio of David Rundblad, 19, Tim Erixon, 18, and Adam Larsson, 17. Among the notable absentees is defenceman Alexander Urbom (Brandon, WHL).
Seventeen players perform regularly in the Swedish top pro league, including Paajarvi-Svensson, who plays for Timra, and Djurgarden centre Marcus Krugertoils.
Best finish: Gold, 1981
6. CANADA: Unlike the team Canada assembled for the 1991 tournament in Saskatoon, this year's group has plenty of Saskatchewan flavour. The Baby Nats are led by head coach Willie Desjardins, a native of Climax who won a Canadian championship with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in 1983 and later went on to coach the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades.
Jared Cowen of Allan (Spokane Chiefs, WHL), Brayden Schenn of Saskatoon (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL) and Jordan Eberle of Regina (Regina Pats) are the Saskatchewan players on the team. Colten Teubert of the Regina Pats and Travis Hamonic of the Moose Jaw Warriors add to the Saskatchewan mix.
Eberle and Teubert are two of six returnees from the team that won gold in Ottawa last year. The others are team captain Patrice Cormier (Rimouski, QMJHL), Stefan Della Rovere (Barrie, OHL), Ryan Ellis (Windsor, OHL) and Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues, NHL).
Pietrangelo has played nine NHL games this season.
All other players hail from the Canadian major junior leagues.
Of the 22-man roster, 20 players have international experience, 15 with Canada's under-18 team. As well, 20 players were picked in either the 2008 or '09 NHL draft, including 10 first-round selections and five second-round picks.
Best finish: Gold, 1982, '85, '88, '90, '91, '93, '94, '95, '96, '97, 2005, '06, '07, '08, '09
7. LATVIA: Latvia, which escaped relegation a year ago with convincing wins over Germany and Kazakhstan, is led by captain Raimonds Vilkoits from the Dinamo Juniors of the Belarus League.
Roberts Bukarts, one of the youngest players for the Kontinental Hockey League's Dinamo Riga, is another strong player.
Head coach Andrejs Maticins and assistant coach Eriks Miluns have assembled a preliminary roster that includes a pair of goalies based in the U.S. in Raimonds Ermics and Dainis Vasilijevs.
While the passion of Latvia's national team is huge, the expectations are realistic given the country's small size. Latvia's goal is simply to avoid relegation.
Best finish: Eighth, 2009
8. SLOVAKIA: Slovakia just missed a medal a year ago in Ottawa, shocking the hockey world with back-to-back upset wins over Finland and the United States en route to the semifinals. The Slovaks settled for fourth after losing to Sweden in a semi and to Russia in the bronze-medal game.
Coach Stefan Mikes is behind the bench for the third straight season. Mikes has seven returning players -- five forwards and two defencemen. Slovakia will again rely on Detroit Red Wings second-round draft pick Tomas Tatar (Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL) and Tampa Bay Lightning second-round selection Richard Panik (Windsor Spitfires, OHL) to provide offence.
The biggest question mark is in net, where Slovakia no longer has 2009 tournament all-star goalie Jaroslav Janus.
The Slovaks are the No. 2 seed in their pool.
Best finish: Fourth, 2009
9. SWITZERLAND: Switzerland -- relegated two years ago -- didn't play in the world juniors in Canada last year, but was promoted after winning the Division I world championship.
Top Swiss players include Nino Niederreiter (Portland Winterhawks, WHL), Roman Josi (SC Bern, National League A, Switzerland), Benjamin Conz (SCL Tigers, National League A, Switzerland), Alain Berger (Oshawa Generals, OHL), Patrick Geering (ESC Lions, National League A, Switzerland) and Lukas Stoop (HC Davos, National League A, Switzerland).
Niederreiter was rated No. 6 among North American skaters in the preliminary NHL Central Scouting rankings in fall.
Best finish: Third, 1998
10. UNITED STATES: A year ago, the United States finished a disappointing fifth.
Forwards Tyler Johnson, Danny Kristo and Jordan Schroeder are three returnees. The preliminary roster also includes nine players who won the gold in the 2009 world under-18 championship: goalie Jack Campbell, forwards Ryan Bourque, Chris Brown, Jerry D'Amigo, Jeremy Morin and Jason Zucker, plus defencemen Cam Fowler, Jon Merrill and John Ramage.
Defenceman John Carlson has played in three NHL games for the Washington Capitals. He has spent the rest of his time this season with the AHL's Hershey Bears, notching 21 points in 28 games.
Head coach Dean Blais, who coached the 1994 junior team to a sixth-place finish, is optimistic about his team's chances.
"I think we have a realistic chance at a medal," Blais said.
"We're a little bit young, but there's certainly enough talent there.
"Certainly, speed kills, and that's something we're going to look for.
"Canada has a great talent pool and a lot of tradition and playing on their home land is going to be tough, but if we have success in those first three games, we've put ourselves in pretty good position, win or lose, against Canada."
Best finish: Gold, 2004
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