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In the thick of it

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
The 12 best hockey nations are at the starting gate and in just 10 days, one will emerge as the world champion. With the men now separated from the boys, it’s time to get down to business.

Though Canadiens players were a little late in joining their national teams, resulting in a slow start to the tournament, they find themselves getting into it when it counts the most.

Appearing in his fourth World Championship, Tomas Plekanec was the first to head over to Switzerland, joining the five other NHLers listed on the Czech roster. The 26-year-old played a key role for his team in 2006, scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-1 triumph over Finland to clinch a spot in the gold-medal matchup. The Czech Republic ultimately left Latvia with the silver.

The Habs center has suited up for three games so far, averaging 13:24 of ice time with a plus-minus rating of 0. His team owns a 2-1 record heading into the qualification round.

If Jaroslav Halak had his pick for his first game opponent, chances are he wouldn’t have selected the one he wound up with. After missing Slovakia’s first two games – a 4-3 win over Hungary followed by a 2-1 loss to Belarus – Halak got the nod for the final preliminary round matchup. That meant a date with Canada.

Unfortunately for Halak, Canada’s stars shone bright, beating the 23-year-old five times on 17 shots. Head coach Jan Filc made a goalie swap but his replacement, Jan Lasak, didn’t fare much better, giving up a pair of tallies on just five shots.

Over in Bern, the Americans finished first in their pool thanks to a 2-0-1 record. Smithtown, New York native Christopher Higgins has had to wait for his on-ice debut due to roster rules, but is expected to be in the lineup when the US faces France in their first qualifying round contest on Friday.

Lastly, the Swiss got a blue line boost with the addition of Yannick Weber, who joins former Hab Mark Streit on the back end.  It was a hectic end of the season for the young defenseman. Called up from Hamilton to spark the Canadiens’ power play, the 20-year-old returned to the Bulldogs after Montreal’s elimination to help them with their postseason run. Once that came to an end on Sunday, Weber hopped on a flight out to Bern, just 108 km east of his hometown of Morges.

It’s been a good start for the host nation, with Switzerland beating France and Germany before falling to the powerhouse Russians, 4-2.

Heather Engel is a writer for

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