The Hurricanes’ loss will be North America
’s gain at this year’s International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Championship in Russia
Eight members of the Hurricanes will compete in this year's event, which begins on Friday and ends with with the gold medal game on May 13th. Erik Cole, John Grahame, Andrew Hutchinson and Chad LaRose
will play for the United States, while Mike Commodore, Eric Staal
, Cam Ward
and Justin Williams will skate for Canada.
Since the tournament takes place during the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the participants’ rosters are comprised of players whose teams either did not make the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round.
The Hurricanes players were among the first group selected by their home countries, with others to join them in the next few days.
While it’s no substitute for a chance to defend their title, the Hurricanes say that representing their countries in a meaningful competition will help take some of the sting away from not making the playoffs.
“You want to compete for the Stanley Cup, but we’re not doing that, so it’s the next best thing,” said Staal, an alternate for Team Canada’s entry in the 2006 Olympics. Besides his Hurricanes teammates, he will also be playing alongside his younger brother Jordan, whose Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s always good to do something competitive even though you’re not in the NHL playoffs and playing for the Stanley Cup,” said Williams, who will be appearing in his third World Championship. “You’re playing for the gold medal and you’re playing for your country. Five and a half months would be a lot of time off not to do anything competitive, and it’s an honor to be selected.”
While team USA features a few of the usual suspects in Cole and Grahame, who were both on the 2006 Olympic Team, surprise inclusions Hutchinson and LaRose will be representing their country for the first time.
“I think it’s a great experience to play in international hockey,” said Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford. “It’s a different style of hockey, and a whole different experience. You get to play with different players on other teams, and the other part is that they don’t get five months off, now they get more like four months, which is better for them. It’ll be a great experience.”
In a strange twist of fate, the other goaltender selected by Canadian GM Steve Yzerman was Dwayne Roloson, who was Ward’s opposite to start last year’s Stanley Cup Finals for Edmonton. A third goaltender will be named before the tournament starts, with Dallas’ Marty Turco the biggest name to be eliminated in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
“There’s going to be different scenarios,” said Ward about his chances of being the starter.
“As of right now I’m with Dwayne Roloson, and ultimately I think it’s going to be the coach’s decision come game time, but it’ll be interesting to see after the first round who gets invited.
I could be a one to a three.
I’m just going to go and enjoy it the best I can.”
For young players in the tournament, the World Championships also present a way to make a case for themselves to be included in the Olympics, which generally features the very best each nation has to offer. A prime example of that is Islanders forward Ryan Smyth, whose seven appearances in the tournament led to him being named captain of the 2006 Canadian Olympic Squad.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to kind of get my foot in the door with Team Canada and it helps me maybe be under consideration for the 2010 Olympics," said Ward. "I’m going to do the best I can to enjoy the experience and make the most of it.”
Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette, who coached the American entries in the 2004 and 2005 tournaments as well as the 2006 Olympics, will not be making the trip this year since USA Hockey named Mike Sullivan as coach on March 26 when Carolina still had a shot at the playoffs.
“They should go to the world championships and enjoy it for what it is,” said Laviolette of his players. “It’s a different brand of hockey with a different environment. It’s a really good tournament. It flies under the radar here, but in Europe it’s a huge tournament.”
Both the United States and Canada will be hoping to do better than they did in last year’s event, where neither team took home a medal. Canada won back-to-back gold medals in 2003 and 2004, while the U.S. last took home the gold in 1960. According to the history page on the tournament's official Web site, the event has never been staged in North America.
Be sure to check back to CarolinaHurricanes.com for updates on Hurricanes players as the tournament progresses. For those wanting to see the Hurricanes players in action, the World Championship Sports Network is offering live streaming coverage of the tournament through its Web site. For more information, click here.
For a tournament schedule or other information on this year's event, visit the official Web site here.