While the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue to be the talk of the hockey world, they will have to share some of the headlines over the next several weeks as the 2010 IIHF World Championships take place in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
Speaking live on Thursday's NHL Hour, USA Hockey's Jim Johansson, who played for the United States in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, talked about the excitement that has built for Friday's opening game between the U.S. and the host Germans.
A capacity crowd of 76,152 is expected to pack Gelsenkirchen's Veltins-Arena, a converted soccer stadium. The crowd would break the record of 74,554 fans who attended a collegiate game in 2001 between Michigan and Michigan State.
"I give hats off to the German federation for coming up with the concept and the idea of kicking off the World Championships this way," Johansson told NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who hosted in place of Commissioner Gary Bettman. "It's going to be an exciting night for the World Championships, certainly for USA Hockey and international hockey as a whole."
The players had the opportunity to check out the setup Thursday, and Johansson, speaking from Germany, said the reviews were positive.
"It looks great. They really did a nice job," he said. "It felt like a hockey rink. It was nice and cold. You were chilly watching practice today. The ice is coming around. It was really the first full day of skating on it, so I know it'll get better overnight and it'll be better after a few pregame skates by the guys tomorrow."
Daly asked Johansson to talk a little bit about the significance of the World Championships to USA Hockey.
"I think it's a real big part of our program and it's a big part of the identity of USA Hockey in the hockey world," Johansson said. "I know a lot of hockey fans tuned it to the Olympics (in Vancouver) -- a lot of the guys that we had got their start at younger ages in the international hockey at our Under-18 and Under-20 championships.
"Just yesterday, we named (Los Angeles Kings defenseman) Jack Johnson the captain of our national team. I think it's exciting to have a kid who's 22 years old be the captain of your national team, but also a kid who had a wealth of international experience."
Since the World Championships run concurrent with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams are limited as far as NHL players to those whose teams didn't qualify or suffered early exits. Nevertheless, Johansson likes the makeup of this year's U.S. entry.
"I think if you look down our roster here, there's a real mix of guys that should have bright futures within USA Hockey," he said. "To single some guys out, you look at Brandon Dubinsky and T.J. Oshie and Kyle Okposo, all young players, all rising players within the National Hockey League. And then you look at our defense, I know Keith Yandle had a real breakout season in Phoenix and this will be his first time putting the USA jersey on."
Daly also welcomed in Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson, who expressed his own optimism at what his team might be able to accomplish in Germany.
"We're excited with the team and player makeup that we have," Nicholson said. "We have Captain Canada there in Ryan Smyth, who's played more games for Canada than any player in the history of Canada. It's great to have him back and he's our captain again."
Nicholson was asked what the expectations are for a nation that prides itself on its hockey superiority and gave a somewhat predictable answer.
"Any time that we go into a World Championship we only have one color in mind, and that's gold," he told Daly. "This team's going to really have to build, day by day, game by game, but I certainly feel we have a good-enough caliber lineup to win. In saying that, we have to make sure we really come together, and that's why having a Ryan Smyth, a Ray Whitney, those types of players in the lineup will certainly help the younger players."
Switching topics, the deputy commissioner also asked Nicholson about the upcoming Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, which will run from Aug. 23-26 in Toronto. Nicholson is largely responsible for putting the event together and offered up some background on the event.
"I think hockey has so many fans, so many players, but we have to make sure that we're building that positive, safe environment for young kids," he said. "We have to make sure that players go through the system, that we make sure they get the right techniques on and off the ice and their whole surroundings -- making sure the biggest influence on the game is coaches and that they have the right techniques, but more importantly that they treat the players in a fashion that parents are comfortable with.
"We did this in 1999 -- I think we changed hockey in our country more out of that summit than any other activity. Now we're trying to take it to the world stage to include the International Ice Hockey Federation, we have USA Hockey, the National Hockey League is right with us and the Canadian Hockey League. So we have great partners and there are issues in our game ... overall our game is the best game in the world to play, and we will use this summit to even make it better."