The IIHF Men's World Championship gets underway on Friday in Belarus. The location of the tournament was not without controversy; regardless, 16 nations will spend the next two weeks in Minsk, the capital.
Giving the importance of the Olympics, the World Juniors, and the World Cup (when it's actually scheduled) it may seem surprising that Canadians have generally ignored the annual tournament. However, a preference for "best-on-best" tournaments and the overlap with the Stanley Cup Playoffs means the Worlds have always been an afterthought.
The Worlds are a great opportunity for those who have missed the playoffs to extend their seasons and for fans to do the same. For Sens fans, there are a few reasons to tune in.
After Kevin Dineen's strong showing with the Women's Olympic Team in Sochi, many thought he would take over management of the Men's National Team ahead of the Worlds; that wasn't the case, as Dineen was handed the coaching reins for Canada's Men's U-18 team. While the tournament doesn't matter to many fans, when not relying on members of the Oilers brain trust, the Canadian GM job is sometimes a stepping stone to NHL gigs and inclusion in Hockey Canada's Olympic plans (Steve Yzerman was Canada's GM at the Worlds in 2007).
This year former Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Blake takes over as GM. Blake, in his first season as assistant GM of the Kings, will also be working with Ron Hextall, a former vice president and assistant GM in LA; as of this morning he's the GM of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Hall-of-Famer Blake has a more difficult job than his predecessors, as the usually long NHL season has been extended by the Olympics. Blake can draw on his experience of playing in five Worlds, including representing Canada twice in 1998 - at the Nagano Olympic Games and then a few months later at the Worlds.
Like 2010, this year's team is young - highlighted by the inclusion of teenager Nathan MacKinnon as well as Morgan Rielly and Mark Scheifele.
The Senators were initially well-represented, with three members invited to join Team Canada. Clarke MacArthur had visa issues and had to decline, but Marc Methot and Kyle Turris accepted the invitation. Unfortunately for Methot, who seemed to be quite excited to represent Canada, a back injury shortly after arriving in Belarus forced him to withdraw from the tournament. That leaves Kyle Turris as the sole Ottawa representative on Team Canada.
It's shaping up to be a wonderful opportunity for Ottawa's budding star. Canada's coaching staff, headed by Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, and assistants Pete DeBoer and Paul Maurice, have been playing Turris as the team's number one centre in pre-tournament games. With Colorado's heartbreaking game seven loss to Minnesota, superstar rookie Nathan MacKinnon was added to the team and to Turris's wing. Both had goals on Tuesday in Canada's 4-0 win against Switzerland in exhibition play.
Ben Scrivens (Edmonton Oilers) and James Reimer (Toronto Maple Leafs) will mostly likely be Canada's 1-2 in goal, with Carolina's Justin Peters as the third goalie. Scrivens and Reimer shared the load in a 23-save shutout against Switzerland on Tuesday, but Reimer may have the edge with previous experience at the Worlds in 2011 (4 GP, 4W, 2.04 GAA, and .920 SV%).
The injury to Methot will no doubt force Blake to add another defenseman. NHL veterans and Vancouver Canucks Jason Garrison and Kevin Bieksa, both representing Canada for the first time, anchor the defense. 22-year-old Ottawa native Erik Gudbranson (twice represented Canada at the U-18 tournament and once at the World Juniors), and Tyler Myers (U-18 in 2008, WJC in 2009, WC in 2010), fill the big defenseman quota. Morgan Rielly and Ryan Ellis add offensive instincts to the backline.
With David Perron drawing out due to injury in addition to first round playoff exits, MacKinnon, Braydon Schenn, and Matt Read have been added to Canada's forward mix. While Read has played just three NHL seasons, he does have experience representing Canada at the Worlds, participating in 2013 (8GP, 1G, 2A, 3P, 2 PIM). Canada's forwards are an interesting mix of veteran NHLers, mostly role players, and budding young stars. Troy Brouwer, Alex Burrows, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward will add veteran experience while Tippett will rely on younger players like Cody Hodgson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Sean Monahan, Scheifele, Turris, and MacKinnon for offense.
Team Canada Schedule
France vs. Canada, May 9, 9:45 am
Canada vs. Slovakia, May 10, 1:45 pm
Czech Republic vs. Canada, May 12, 1:45 pm
Canada vs. Denmark, May 15, 9:45 am
Canada vs. Italy, May 16, 9:45 am
Canada vs. Sweden, May 18, 9:45 am
Norway vs. Canada, May 20, 5:45 am
*all games on TSN or TSN2
Senators to Watch