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2004 World Championship Preview (Long)

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04-25-2004, 10:06 AM
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HF_Rangers
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2004 World Championship Preview (Long)

I'm a hockey writer for InsideHockey.com, and I wrote an article about the World Championship. It hasn't been published yet so I'd thought I'd publish it myself as early as possible right here. I know it's a day late, but I can clarify that I finished it a day before the start of the tournament.

World Championship of Hockey 2004 Preview

For some players, the annual IIHF World Championship of Hockey is a consolation for not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The thrill of international competition mixed with the thought of national pride after the gold medal is won in mid-May. For other players, they see it as an opportunity to make a name for themselves to leverage a possible jump to North America. Last year’s World Championship saw ex-Ranger Anson Carter net the winning goal in a thrilling gold medal win for Team Canada. Could Canada defend its title in the Czech Republic, or will any of the other 15 countries competing take the gold away from Canada? Here are some predictions on this year’s World Championship.

GROUP A
All four countries in this group are from Europe, they Germany, Latvia, Kazakhstan, and the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is the clear-cut favorite in the group and they could make a showing in the medal round.

Czech Republic
The Czechs have the honor of hosting this year’s tournament, and the hometown crowd may see a gold medal team. An encouraging factor to this is the appearance of Jaromir Jagr, who said that he would only compete if the team had a chance of winning the gold. Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun will tend the cage for the Czechs, and the late additions of Martin Rucinsky and Roman Hamrlik further improve an already strong roster.
Key Forwards: Jagr, Rucinsky, and Martin Straka.
Key Defensemen: Hamrlik, Martin Skoula, and Jaroslav Spacek.

Germany
For a team with just two NHLers, the Germans are the toughest opponents for the Czechs in Group A. Olaf Kolzig will lead the way along with Sabres winger Jochen Hecht. The absence of Marco Sturm (broken leg/playoffs) will be felt, as he is undoubtedly the best German hockey player since the Berlin Wall came down. They’re a rather physical team for a European country, so they could be a longshot for relegation.
Key Forwards: Hecht and Stefan Ustorf.
Key Defensemen: Christoph Schubert and Jan Benda.

Latvia
The team that had a shocking upset over Russia in last year’s World Championship is coming back with mostly the same players from last year’s roster. Arturs Irbe, who spent most of this season in the ECHL, has had a history of strong play on the international stage. Sandis Ozolinsh was part of the Ducks team during last year’s playoff run and his addition to this year’s roster makes the team much better, along with Sergei Zholtok, who played with Minnesota last season.
Key Forwards: Zholtok, Herbert Vasiljevs and Grigorijs Pantelejevs.
Key Defenseman: Ozolinsh.

Kazakhstan
The country known for its poor economy sends a national team to the top division of the World Championships for the first time since 1998. With no NHL players on the roster (Nik Antropov would have play if the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs), they seem very likely to be in the relegation round. However, it’s shallow thinking like that enabled Denmark to have a strong performance in last year’s event. Former Rangers goalie Vitali Yeremeyev will start, and a cast of veterans from the Ust-Kamenogorsk team will fill most of the roster.
Key Forwards: Evgeny and Alexander Koreshov.
Key Defenseman: Alexei Troschinsky.

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04-25-2004, 10:08 AM
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GROUP B
Easily the toughest group in the 1st round. The Ukraine will attempt to hold off their daunting opponents, which are Finland, Slovakia, and the United States. The U.S. has been bad recently in World Championship play (even going into the relegation round) so they have a lot to prove.

Slovakia
The surprise winners of the 2002 World Championship after their embarrassing run at the Salt Lake Winter Games are the underdogs to win this group. If their fans show up, it could be an advantage but if the Czech crowd has their way, then the Slovaks would repeat their 2002 Olympic effort. A consolation for a Slovakian Senators fan is that three Sens are on the team, and they might be the most talented on the roster. The additions of Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, and Peter Bondra make a ton of difference to the squad which also has Marian Gaborik, who struggled for most of the season with the Wild. Predators farmhand Jan Lasak will be the starting goalie.
Key Forwards: Gaborik, Hossa, and Bondra.
Key Defensemen: Chara and Ivan Majesky.

Finland
Two NHL backups will lead the squad, but that isn’t a problem as they have both shown flashes of brilliance. Mika Noronen should see more of the time than Jussi Markkanen, instead of Kari Lethonen who is leading the AHL Chicago Wolves in the playoffs. The squad contains many league players that are also former NHLers, such as Tomi Kallio and Petteri Nummelin. Janne Niinimaa leads the defense, and Panthers teammates Olli Jokinen and Niklas Hagman could factor in the scoring. Defense is the focal point for this team, so low-scoring games could be expected.
Key Forwards: Jokinen, Hagman, and Niko Kapanen.
Key Defensemen: Niinimaa and Sami Salo.

United States
Since the silver medal at the 2002 Olympics, the U.S. team has made a bad showing on the international stage (save for the World Juniors) ever since. The pros are looking to redeem themselves in this year’s tournament and they should avoid anything below 10th place. They are a relatively young team with lots of speed, so they should adapt well against their European opponents. Aaron Miller is solid as a rock on defense. Adam Hall could be he surprise of the tournament, as he was a factor in the Predators’ success this season. The underrated Ty Conklin may start at goalie but it appears likely that seasoned veteran of the World Championship, Mike Dunham will start.
Key Forwards: Hall, Chris Drury, and Mike Grier.
Key Defensemen: Miller and Jeff Jillson.

Ukraine
Seeing how this is the toughest group in the tournament, the Ukrainians are in trouble. Igor Karpenko had experience in the 2002 Olympics, and he should get the start in goal. The lone player with NHL experience is former Blues winger Sergei Varlamov. They are also a very small team; the average height of a position player is 5’11”.
Key Forwards: Varlamov and Vadim Shakhraychuk.
Key Defenseman: Valeri Shyryaev.

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04-25-2004, 10:10 AM
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GROUP C
With two elite squads and two fringe teams in this group, this group is the most interesting. Sweden and Russia are medal favorites while Denmark and Japan look to avoid the relegation round.

Sweden
“Tre Kronor” looks to take the gold medal after last year’s silver and before that, two bronzes. They boast a strong roster and they could medal for the fourth year in a row. There is a goaltending controversy between prospects Stefan Liv (Red Wings) and Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers) and they may eventually split duties throughout the tournament. The defense is rather young and late addition of Daniel Alfredsson (who may be captain) adds to an already speedy corps of forwards.
Key Forwards: Alfredsson, Mikael Nylander, and Andreas Johansson.
Key Defensemen: Dick Tarnstrom and Niclas Havelid.

Russia
The Russians feature the player that will likely get the most attention, future No. 1 overall pick Alexander Ovechkin. They have a team with mostly non-NHL stars, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Former NHLer Oleg Tverdovsky leads them on defense and the lone NHL defenseman on the team is the Sabres’ Dmitri Kalinin. Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk make for a potentially exciting duo on the ice. The flashiest forwards are on this team, which could make them exciting to watch.
Key Forwards: Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, and Sergei Samsonov.
Key Defensemen: Tverdovsky and Kalinin.

Denmark
The Great Danes look to make their mark and have a second straight season of success in the World Championships. The team that defeated the U.S. and tied Canada at last year’s event are no longer hockey’s best-kept secret. Peter Hirsch was last year’s team MVP and he is the most underrated goalie in the tourney. Jesper Duus was a big factor on defense for last year’s team, and former Habs draft pick Kim Staal will be the team’s biggest offensive contributor.
Key Forwards: Staal, Jens Nielsen, and Ronny Larsen.
Key Defensemen: Duus and Fredrik Åkesson.

Japan
Those might ask why the Japan team is here every year even though they have finished last for the last four years. In hockey’s version of the “play-in game”, Japan has defeated South Korea each season in the Far East Qualifier. That anomaly has caused the IIHF to get rid of the game, so Japan will be fighting for their lives this year. With that aside, I’ll concede that this year’s team is improved and they have heart, but I think they won’t be playing in Austria next season. Jiro Nihei will start in goal, and Charlotte Checkers defensemen Kengo Ito will lead the blueline. 2003 ECHL All-Star Takahito Suzuki should carry the offense, which may just show up for the Denmark game.
Key Forwards: Suzuki and Chris Bright (who actually played for Team Canada in 1994)
Key Defenseman: Ito.

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04-25-2004, 10:12 AM
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GROUP D
The defending champions have a seemingly easy road for the preliminary round. Canada will take on the likes of France, Switzerland, and Austria, countries that are all very close to each other.

Canada
The Canadians have the most complete team in the tournament, and they have a good shot of repeating last year’s win. Quebec’s success of producing great goalies shows as J.S. Giguere, Roberto Luongo, and Marc Denis are on the roster. Luongo will be the number one. The list of star forwards are too many to name, but Dany Heatley and Glen Murray stand out. If Rick Nash stayed on the team, it could’ve been scary for the rest of Group D. Derek Morris and Jay Bouwmeester lead a young, but outstanding defense.
Key Forwards: Heatley, Murray, and Daniel Briere.
Key Defensemen: Morris and Bouwmeester.

Switzerland
Ok, so I may have glowed about Canada’s goalies, but the aforementioned Giguere struggled for the Ducks and Martin Gerber got his chance. Not only did he do well, but he also took the No. 1 job for a while from last year’s Conn Smythe winner. If the goalie is supposed to be your best player, then the Swiss could be going places. He’s the difference between an upset and a close loss, and there is no doubt the team will be counting on him. With AHL defensemen Julien Vauclair and Goran Bezina in front of Gerber, the defense should be steady. The team’s notoriously soft play may hurt them in the long run, however.
Key Forwards: Luca Cereda, Ivo Ruthemann, and Thomas Ziegler.
Key Defensemen: Vauclair and Bezina.

Austria
The country that will host next year’s tournaments shows the positive progress Austria has made in ice hockey. With three NHL players from Austria this season, Austria is starting to make a dent in the hockey world. Blues goalie Reinhard Divis is a superb netminder and like the Swiss, the Austrians will depend on him for further success. Thomas Pöck (pronounced “Poke”), a Hobey Baker finalist and Rangers defenseman, may be one of the best offensive defensemen to come in recent memory. But the best player on the roster could be a future NHL superstar, and that’s Sabres prospect and Golden Gopher Thomas Vanek. Vanek has an offensive touch and clutch ability that may make the difference to win games.
Key Forwards: Vanek, Deiter Kalt, and Oliver Setzinger.
Key Defensemen: Pöck and Robert Lukas.

France
After I’ve talked about how Switzerland and Austria rely on their NHL goalie, France has the same situtation with the Kings’ Cristobal Huet. Huet did well in his first full season as the league’s second French player. Those who watched the French at the 2002 Olympics notice a very different roster, and the most notable absence is former Blues defenseman Philippe Bozon, who is injured. Fans may notice two familiar names, former Coyotes center Sebastien Bordeleau, and Hawks prospect Yorrick Trielle.
Key Forwards: Bordeleau and Trielle.
Key Defense: Christian Pouget.

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04-25-2004, 10:15 AM
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PREDICTIONS
(Last two teams relegated to Div. 1 and replaced with Belarus and Slovenia.)
16. Japan
15. Kazakhstan
14. France
13. Ukraine
12. Denmark
11. Latvia
10. Austria
9. Germany
8. Switzerland
7. United States
6. Finland
5. Russia
4. Slovakia
3. Sweden
2. Canada
1. Czech Republic

With the hometown crowd on their side and the blessing of Jaromir Jagr that the Czech Republic could win their fourth gold in six years, I think that the Czechs have the will and the talent to win the gold.

--------------
Attached to this message is the entire file in case you want to read it offline. Thanks for reading and I hope it's a little informative.
Attached Files
File Type: doc WC2004.doc‎ (37.0 KB, 3 views)

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04-26-2004, 03:50 PM
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Wow, that was great!!

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04-27-2004, 04:41 AM
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Great analysis, good job

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04-27-2004, 06:14 AM
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Really good. This is the kind of posts I like to read, long balanced and full of facts.

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05-03-2004, 06:41 PM
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Thanks for your kind comments, everyone... Glad to say the article is now published at:

http://insidehockey.com/wc/index.html

It looks better there, as the article is spaced out. Too bad the relegation prediction went wrong (Kazakhstan is stronger than I thought, and I thought Huet would make a difference... I'm sure the Kings aren't pleased but then again Team France made me realize that there is a worse defense corps than the Rangers).

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05-03-2004, 07:06 PM
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Nicely done

edit: I'm tempted to stay sick for a few more days, stay home and watch some of the games. I am sick as we speak righ tnow, and stayed home today, but I could alwyas embellish it some...screw school

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