Nathan MacKinnon and Reto Berra are spending the early part of their offseasons just west of Russia, on a couple of international-sized ice sheets in Minsk, Belarus.
MacKinnon, the Avs’ 18-year-old Canadian forward, who burst onto the hockey scene this season, and Berra, a Swiss-born goaltender acquired on this year’s trade-deadline day, will represent their respective countries at the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
The 17-day, 16-team tournament begins Friday morning (MT) and runs through Sunday, May 25, with the playoffs beginning May 22.
Preliminary play is scheduled until May 20, with the top four teams from each eight-team group advancing to a crossover quarterfinal setup. Semifinal games will be played May 24, and medals will be decided the next day.
MacKinnon and Berra are both set to start the tournament Friday, as Team Canada is set to face France at 7:45 a.m. (MT) at Chizhovka Arena (9,600) while the Swiss take on Russia at the same time across town at Minsk Arena (15,000).
Both players made themselves eligible for the tournament after the Avalanche’s season ended last week in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Berra played for Team Switzerland in February, during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and finished 0-1 with a 1.02 goals-against average in one start. He stopped 30 of 31 shots in a dynamic effort against Sweden (1-0 loss) on Feb. 14.
This is the third straight appearance in the Worlds and fourth international tournament overall for Berra, who played between the pipes in the World Championship four games each in 2012 and 2013 (5-3) and represented Switzerland in the World Junior Championship during a six-game run (3-3) in 2007.
He finished the 2013-14 regular season appearing in 31 games between the Avalanche and Calgary Flames and was 9-18-3 with a 3.07 GAA and .893 save percentage. He was acquired by Colorado on March 5 and played two games with the Avs, going 0-1-1 with a 5.83 GAA.
He signed a three-year contract extension with Colorado, through the 2016-17 season, on March 13.
MacKinnon was an instant success this season with the Avalanche, making a name for himself on the metaphorical international stage, but this will be his first literal international experience.
He was added to the Canadian roster on Sunday—along with the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn and Matt Read—after he finished this season as a heavy favorite to claim the NHL’s Calder Trophy (top rookie) after leading all league rookies in points (63), goals (24-tied), assists (39), power-play goals (eight), game-winning goals (five-tied), shots (241) and games played (82-tied).
He was the first NHL player to lead all rookies in goals, assists and points since Evgeni Malkin did during the 2006-07 season, and he was the first NHL rookie to score 60 or more points with a plus-minus rating of plus-20 or better since 1993 (Joe Juneau, Eric Lindros, Shawn McEachern).
A natural center, MacKinnon played on the wing and against Berra earlier this week and scored a goal and had an assist in Canada’s and Switzerland’s pre-tournament exhibition game in Zurich.
MacKinnon is the first 18-year-old to wear Team Canada’s iconic maple leaf logo in the World Championship since Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby did in 2006.
IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP INFORMATION
The 16-team field is divided into two groups for the Preliminary Round (May 9 to 20), and the top-four ranked teams of each group will play in a crossover, single-elimination quarterfinal setup on May 22.
The first-place team in each Preliminary group plays the fourth-place team of the other group, while the second-place team plays the third-place team of the other group. Semifinals will be played May 24, and advancing teams will play for medals on May 25.
For Preliminary Round play, all games will be played under the international, three-point system, with three points awarded for a regulation win. In the event of a regulation tie, both teams will earn a point, and an additional point will be awarded for an overtime win (five minutes).
A shootout will be utilized for games still tied after overtime.
Final IIHF world rankings will be produced after the 2014 Championship and will be based on rankings of the four most recent World Championships and of the last Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament (including qualification tournaments).