By the time April turns to May, every NHL player wants to be competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But for players whose seasons ended earlier than hoped, there remains an opportunity to win something -- in this case, a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Championship, which starts May 4 in Helsinki and Stockholm.
For a young New York Islanders team looking to build off a disappointing season, there is one veteran pleased to see some teammates on a number of national-team rosters.
"I can speak for myself, it [World Championship experience] was probably one of the biggest positives in my career. It allowed me to go over and play with some really incredible players," veteran Islanders defenseman Steve Staios told NHL.com. "Because of the timing, it doesn't get as much publicity in the U.S. and Canada. Every hockey player wants to be in the NHL playoffs more than anything. But on an international stage, when you go over there you really sense the excitement."
Staios, who won back-to-back golds and a silver for Canada in four World Championship appearances, has high hopes for the Islanders going forward and sees a unique opportunity for a number of players who will be competing in this year's tournament.
Forward Michael Grabner will be expected to lead the charge for Austria as the only NHL player on the roster. Two-way forward Frans Nielsen will provide some much-needed veteran leadership to an underdog Denmark squad, while Kyle Okposo, who finished the NHL season with nine goals in his last nine games, will do the same for the U.S. Prospect Nino Niederreiter will learn under the tutelage of Isles captain Mark Streit with Switzerland.
But it's team leader John Tavares, fresh off a breakout 81-point season, who potentially could shine for Canada in the tournament. After scoring seven goals in seven games at the 2010 Worlds, Tavares was a revelation last spring, leading Team Canada in scoring with nine points in seven games. But after bowing out in the quarterfinals in each of the last two years, Tavares and Canada are looking to bounce back.
"He [Tavares] is the face of the franchise and is going to have a lot of pressure to perform. I have complete confidence that he is the guy to do it," Staios said. "He can handle the pressure. He's been groomed to be in that situation and be that player. After being picked No. 1 overall, I think he embraces it. It [World Championship] is the biggest thing for the European countries, so it's a great stage to see how you compare to international players, playing on that international stage and handling that kind of pressure in a hostile environment. To me, it was a real step forward as far as my confidence and development in my career."
You get to play in pressure games and you get to play with the best players in the world - Steve Staios
The World Championship experience certainly helped Tavares' development last season. After standing out in the 2011 tournament in Slovakia, he improved in every major statistical category and played in his first NHL All-Star Game in January. Now considered a leader on a Canadian team with many young players, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane, and Jeff Skinner, the 21-year-old Tavares could bring a newfound leadership into Islanders camp in the fall.
"You get to play in pressure games and you get to play with the best players in the world that aren't playing in the playoffs. There is some amazing talent that is going over there to play in these tournaments," Staios said. "I think another thing for any team is the Olympics are coming up. There is a lot of pressure on these guys. Even if it doesn't get a lot of play or publicity, the pressure is still there to perform."
Author: Tal Pinchevsky | NHL.com Staff Writer