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Bolts well represented at upcoming World Championships

Eight Lightning players will represent their countries at the tournament that begins on May 10

by Bryan Burns /

The 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship begins May 10 and will determine a winner after over two weeks of action.

Hosted by Slovakia in the cities of Bratislava and Kosice, the World Championship will see 16 national teams compete in round robin play through May 21 with the knockout stage starting May 23 and concluding with the final May 26 at Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava.

Eight Lightning players will be featured at this year's World Championship, highlighted by Team Russia, which features three Bolts: goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, forward Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Additionally, young forwards Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph will compete for Team Canada, Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta will suit up for Team Czech Republic and Erik Cernak will play for the host Slovakian National Team.

Sweden will look to win its third-consecutive World Championship but will do so without Lightning defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, who are not participating.

Here's who to keep an eye on from the Tampa Bay Lightning throughout the 17-day competition.

Andrei Vasilevskiy
The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist will likely get the bulk of the starts for Team Russia in his third World Championship appearance. He made his debut for Team Russia at the 2014 tournament, starting two games and going 1-0-1 with a .985 save percentage and 0.50 goals-against average. In 2017, Vasilevskiy was named top goalie at the World Championship after notching three shutouts and a 6-2 record in helping Team Russia to the bronze medal.

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Nikita Kucherov
Kucherov became the second Tampa Bay player ever to capture the Art Ross Trophy after notching 128 points in 2018-19, the most points ever by a Russian player in a NHL season and the most by a player of any nationality in the Salary Cap era. Kucherov is making his second appearance at a World Championship. In 2017, he scored seven goals and recorded 15 points in 10 games for Team Russia.

Mikhail Sergachev
The 20-year-old defenseman will make his World Championship debut for Team Russia. Sergachev has 12 games of World Juniors experience and will look to become a regular on a Russian back end that also features former Lightning player Nikita Nesterov. Sergachev recorded six goals and 26 assists in his second full NHL season in 2018-19, ranking third among Bolts blueliners in both categories.

Anthony Cirelli
Cirelli has experience playing and thriving in big-game situations as he scored two goals, including the overtime game-winner, in the 2015 Memorial Cup championship and recorded the game-tying goal and an assist in Team Canada's semifinal round victory over Sweden at the 2017 World Junior Championship that helped the team secure the silver medal.

This will be Cirelli's first World Championship experience.

"Pretty special whenever you get asked to do something like this and go out there and represent your country," he said. "It's a huge honor to go out there and wear the maple leaf. I'm really excited and glad for the opportunity."

Mathieu Joseph
Joseph was a surprise addition to the Lightning roster out of training camp and ended up notching 13 goals and 13 assists in 70 games during his rookie season. He'll get a chance to further his development playing with the likes of John Tavares and Sean Couturier for Team Canada on the world stage. On Monday, Joseph skated on Canada's fourth line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Lightning teammate Anthony Cirelli during training sessions in preparations for Friday's tournament opener versus Finland at Kosice's Steel Arena.

Ondrej Palat
Palat has represented the Czech Republic at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey but will be making his World Championship debut.

"It's my first World Championship," he said. "It's always fun to play for your home country, especially since Slovakia is so close, so it's basically going to be home."

Palat's Czech hometown of Frydek-Mistek is just a three-hour car ride from Bratislava and four hours from Kosice.

Video: Palat on the World Championships

Jan Rutta
Rutta, who signed a one-year, one-way contract Friday with the Lightning worth $1.3 million, will be making his second appearance at the World Championship for the Czech Republic. He played eight games in the 2017 tournament, scoring one goal. Rutta played every game for the Lightning (14 regular season, four postseason) after being recalled from AHL Syracuse on March 8 and was one of the Bolts' top scorers in the playoffs with two assists in the first round.

Erik Cernak
A rookie defenseman who led the Lightning for scoring in the 2019 playoffs with three assists in four games, Cernak will be competing in his first World Championship for host Slovakia after two prior stints with the Slovakian World Juniors squad. In 2015, he contributed three goals and two assists in five games for Slovakia at the WJC. Cernak led all NHL rookies for hits (198) in 2018-19 and was tied with teammate Anthony Cirelli for the best plus/minus (+25) among League rookies.

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