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Getting The Party Started

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Defenseman Keith Ballard will be one of four Panthers at the World Championships in Switzerland. The tournament starts Friday. The US will begin play Saturday against fellow Cats defenseman Karlis Skrastins and Latvia.

By Risto Pakarinen for

BERN - The organizers of the 73rd World Championship are putting the final touches on this year’s European hockeyfest in Switzerland. The last signs are posted and the press conference room is getting its backdrop. The first teams have hit the ice in the practice rinks, as the rest of the teams and the media get into the city to take it over for the next three weeks.

Bern’s PostFinance Arena, the home of National League A regular season winners and post-season underachievers SC Bern, has also got a major facelift, fit for the main venue of the tournament.

The best part, the standing room grandstand where 10,000 fans can cheer their favorites, has remained in tact. However, for the World Championship it has been turned into a seating area, bringing the capacity down from 17,000 to about 12,000. Whether their singing and chanting is enough to give Team Switzerland a true home-ice advantage remains to be seen. Back in 1998, when Switzerland last hosted the tournament, they made it to the semifinal, their best finish since 1953 when they won the bronze medal.

Then - as now - Team Switzerland was led by Canadian-born Ralph Krueger, who enters his 12th tournament as coach of the Swiss team.

Much of the buzz in and around the event’s arenas - the PostFinance Arena in Bern and the Arena Zurich-Kloten (also called Schluefweg) – surrounds which NHL players will join the tournament’s teams.

All the coaches wake up in Switzerland to check the NHL scores to see who might be available to join. And then they work the phones.

On Wednesday morning, the Finns had seven NHLers on their roster - goaltenders Karri Ramo and Pekka Rinne, defensemen Ville Koistinen and Anssi Salmela and forwards Jarkko Ruutu, Niklas Hagman, Antti Miettinen - and the Swedes four: defensemen Niklas Grossman and Tobias Enstrom and forwards Loui Eriksson and Joel Lundqvist.

By Thursday morning, Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson had named St. Louis Blues forward Patrik Berglund to his roster, while Finland’s GM Jari Kurri woke up to see the Montreal Canadiens’ Saku Koivu was available, at least in theory.

The first week of the tournament is a warmup round for the big nations. Canada, based in Kloten, is in the same group with Slovakia, Belarus and Hungary, which returns to the top division after a 70-year absence. The U.S. works on its game plan and line formations in games between Sweden, Latvia and Austria.

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