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Canada look to avenge silver at IIHF World Hockey Championship

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DUBENDORF, Switzerland - The last IIHF World Hockey Championship ended in agony for six of the men who will be trying to bring the gold back to Canada this time.

Watching the Russians celebrate a victory in Quebec City last May is something that has stuck with each of the players who accepted an invite to compete again in Switzerland. Three of those guys - Shane Doan, Martin St. Louis and Dany Heatley - will help form the leadership core of this team and intend to make sure that everyone else knows how awful it feels to fall short of gold.

"It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth," Doan said Thursday. "We had such a great team (last year), when you look at the guys that were on that team and how talented it was. We were dominant for pretty much the whole tournament except other than about 10 minutes in one period.

"That was our downfall."

The chance to start making more positive memories begins Friday when Canada opens this year's event against Belarus.

Doan will once again lead the team, essentially inheriting Ryan Smyth's "Captain Canada" label after being given the 'C' for a third straight year. It was a decision that coach Lindy Ruff called a "no-brainer."

This world championship falls at an important point in the current international hockey cycle since it will be the final major men's event held prior to the 2010 Olympics.

While the team's performance here will have no direct influence on what happens in Vancouver, it could be extremely important for some individuals hoping to be part of the Winter Games. This represents an opportunity for those guys to make a case for their inclusion.

"If you can play well here when your team needs you then you're just proving to Steve Yzerman and that management group that when the pressure's on you can be counted on and you can play," said Canadian GM Doug Armstrong. "You have to have that information.

"When that team gets to Vancouver, they have to be up and running and you have to know that the players aren't going to be overwhelmed - or you hope that they're not going to be overwhelmed in that environment. This is something that gives us proof of that."

It all starts with challenging for gold here.

Canada enters as an unofficial co-favourite with Russia and can expect to be challenged by Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and maybe even a young American team. The tournament is tough to handicap at the outset because countries will continue to add players to their lineups as NHL teams are knocked out of the first round of the playoffs.

"I think it's all going to be defined over the next 10 days once these rosters get finalized," said Armstrong. "There's some great competition, it's not only going to be the Russians. The Swedes are always very good, the Finns are good and you always have a surprise team that comes up.

"We respect the competition, we know that they're going to be good, but we really believe that we're going to be good also."

The Canadian squad has yet to even play an exhibition game together.

Ruff expects to see some quick chemistry from his forward units because so many of them play together in the NHL. Heatley will be paired with Senators teammate Jason Spezza; Tampa's Steven Stamkos will skate alongside St. Louis; and the Phoenix Coyotes duo of Matthew Lombardi and Scottie Upshall are expected to start on the same unit.

On defence, Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis of the Nashville Predators will be paired together.

"We've got what we call connectors," explained Ruff. "We've tried to put guys together that have been together. The interesting part is to see whether it's going to work.

"It may take shuffling one guy here or moving a guy there."

Dwayne Roloson will start in goal against Belarus and is expected to share duties early in the event with Chris Mason, who was officially added to the team Thursday.

Armstrong says he'll likely add two more position players once more NHL teams are eliminated.

Canada will play six round-robin games in Kloten - a suburb of Zurich - before travelling to Bern for a must-win quarter-final. It will face some weaker nations like Hungary in the early going so the focus will be on staying sharp.

"You can't look too far forward in tournaments like these because if you lose a game in the quarters then you're out," said Spezza. "We know who the strongest competition should be but you've got to be ready every night. You could go undefeated through the first two rounds and lose the quarter-finals then you go home.

"You've got to be ready to go."

Overall, it's something that Canada has been good at recently thanks in large part to the commitment of guys like Doan, Heatley and Rick Nash, who remains back in North America with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The country has played in the gold-medal game five of the past six years, winning three times and settling for silver twice. That wave of medals is something Doan sees as a byproduct of the success Canada has had at the world junior championship.

"Really the momentum started probably with the world juniors from '95, '96," he said. "It's kind of that group of guys that are now playing in the world championships and also the guys that have been winning the world juniors right now. So Canada is just kind of breeding that - getting that going as a cyclical thing."

However, the golden cycle was interrupted at last year's world championship.

Armstrong was an assistant GM for that team and recalls the "hollow feeling" he carried through the summer after watching Ilya Kovalchuk score an overtime goal to give Russia the gold medal. He sees this as an opportunity to make amends.

"It was very disappointing," said Armstrong. "These players give a lot, the coaches give a lot and at the end of the day you want to win the gold medal. That's why we're here.

"It's a great experience culturally and all those different things, but we're here to win a gold medal."

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