MONTREAL - The Stanley Cup isn't the only piece of hardware handed out at this time of year. A shot at gold was enough to lure over a half dozen Canadiens to the 2006 World Hockey Championship in Riga, Latvia.
Taking a crack at world hockey supremacy provided Mike Komisarek, Jan Bulis, Tomas Plekanec, David Aebischer and Mark Streit with a chance to take out their NHL playoff frustrations on the rest of the hockey planet following Montreal's first-round exit at the hands of the Hurricanes. This year's World Championship have also supplied a showcase for such up-and-coming talents as Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovsky.
Komisarek, whose only other international experience dates back to the 2001 and 2002 World Juniors, picked up an assist in his World Championship debut with Team USA. The 24-year-old native of West Islip, NY, led the way in the muscle and toughness department on the American blue line along with fellow 240-pounder Hal Gill of the Bruins.
The Czech tandem of Bulis and Plekanec are also receiving their World Championship initiation as they look to help lead the Czech Republic to a second straight gold medal for the first time since their homeland won three straight World crowns from 1999 through 2001. After a promising rookie season, 23-year-old Plekanec has a pair of goals for the Czechs heading into their semi-final showdown with Finland.
Mike Komisarek looks on during the American national anthem following Team USA's win over the defending champion Czech Republic.
Coming off their Cinderella run at the Olympics in Turin that included upset wins over Canada and the Czech Republic, Switzerland was unable to carry over that momentum, failing to reach the quarterfinals in Latvia. Team captain Streit led the Swiss blue line with three assists, while Aebischer started all six games, posting a 2-2-2 mark with a 2.67 goals against average.
Switzerland's medal plans were ironically derailed by a mirror image of itself, an upstart Belarus squad that features a pair of Canadiens hopefuls. Kostitsyn, who suited up for 12 games with Montreal this season, has a goal and four assists for Belarus. Grabovsky, Montreal's fourth round pick, 150th overall at the 2004 NHL draft, has exploded for a team-high five goals and nine points for the Belarussians, with the 22-year-old center trailing Canada's Sidney Crosby by only two goals for the overall tournament lead.
Rounding out the Canadiens' contingent at the World Championship is Kim Staal of Denmark. Drafted by Montreal 92nd overall back in 1996 when Kostitsyn and Grabovsky were still in grade school, 28-year-old Staal scored five goals of his own for Denmark.
Time will tell if semi-finalists Bulis and Plekanec of the Czech Republic will manage to follow in the footsteps of Craig Rivet who won gold with Team Canada at the 2003 World Hockey Championship in Finland.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com