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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Ryan Malone, Andy Hilbert and Brooks Orpik will trade their Pittsburgh Penguins Black and Gold jerseys for Team USA’s Red, White and Blue uniforms soon.

The three Penguins were invited to be part of Team USA’s squad that will compete at the World Championships in Riga, Latvia.

Preliminary round action begins May 5 with the U.S. meeting Norway at 10:15 a.m. The U.S. battles Denmark on May 7 and Canada, which will feature Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby, on May 9. The qualification and relegation round starts on May 11.

This will be Malone’s second World Championships. He was part of a U.S. team that finished third in 2004. Malone had 22 goals and 22 assists for the Penguins this year.

“It’s a great opportunity. We’re not in the playoffs, so I’d like to keep playing a little bit. It’s a good experience for me,” he said. “Two years ago was a great experience for me, too. I got to meet some new friends and see a part of the world I had never seen before and I got to do what I love to do, which is play hockey.

“It’ll be a fresh start just to get an opportunity to go over there and have some fun.”

This time, two other familiar faces will join him in Hilbert and Orpik.

“It’s great they are going. The first year I was there, there wasn’t anybody else from our team that went to play for the U.S.,” Malone said. “It definitely makes it more comfortable and easier to adjust when you see some familiar faces.”

Malone, a Pittsburgh native, had three goals for Team USA in 2004. The 26-year-old forward hopes to make an impression on Team USA officials for future consideration in international events.

“You never know – if you go over there and have a great tournament, a lot of doors open up and you continue to prove yourself as a hockey player throughout the world,” he said. “It definitely won’t hurt if you go over there and do well, that’s for sure.”

Hilbert was Malone’s teammate with the U.S. squad in 2004. He also played for the Team USA squad that failed to medal at the 2002 World Championships.

“It’s a great accomplishment and a great honor to be named, invited or even thought of for that team and to play for your own country in the World Championships,” he said. “I have been there a couple times, but hopefully this one will be a great experience. It’s always fun to play for your country. Hopefully, I will have a bigger role and be able to play a little more. It’s going to be a big test and it’s going to tough for me.”

Hilbert, who was claimed by the Penguins off waivers on March 9, has enjoyed instant chemistry in Pittsburgh. He looks forward to heading to Latvia with his two teammates.

“It’s awesome. I played with Ryan in 2004, so that’s how I knew him coming into Pittsburgh. Once you play with guys, you become friends with them and it makes it a little easier, especially going over there having already played with them here,” he said. “Hopefully, the adjustment comes a little quicker.”

Hilbert did not hesitate to accept his Team USA invitation. He finished with 12 goals and 15 assists in 47 games this year.

“I am just happy to be on the World Championship team. I have played in a lot of international events in the past and it sure is a lot of fun,” he said. “You never want to turn down playing for your country and I am real excited. It should be a lot of fun over there.”

This year’s World Championships will be Orpik’s first.

“I was pretty excited. A couple years ago, I wanted to go do it, but I went down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton instead,” he said. “My only concern was my health and my shoulder feels pretty good. My foot feels good. So, I am looking forward to it.”

It will be Orpik’s first international competition since he played for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. He had two goals, seven assists and a team-best 124 penalty minutes with the Penguins this year.

“Growing up, I always had a chance to play Under-17s and Under-18s and stuff that like and it was always fun,” he said. “It’s fun in these tournaments to see some of the same faces of the guys you grew up with. It should be fun and it will be a help having a couple of guys from here, too.”

Crosby, the Penguins’ 18-year-old sensation, will represent Canada at the World Championships. He became the youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 points this year. He finished with 39 goals and 63 assists for 102 points – a Penguins franchise rookie record.

“To get the opportunity is nice. With not being in the playoffs, hopefully it will extend the season a little bit,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Crosby looks forward to playing against his three teammates when Canada and the U.S. face each other on May 9.

“Yeah, for sure. I am happy for them. They are great players,” he said. “To get that experience is great. It’d be weird to play against them, but still fun nonetheless.”

Penguins prospect Evgeni Malkin, the 2004 second-overall pick, will most likely play for Team Russia. However, veteran Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who played for Russia in the Olympics, does not expect to receive an invitation for this event. He said Team Russia plans to go with a roster full of non-NHLers, with the exception of Capitals rookie Alexander Ovechkin.

“That’s what it looks like. Since the Olympics experience and outcome wasn’t as good as everyone expected, especially when we beat Canada, everyone is disappointed [in Russia],” Gonchar said. “It seems like the NHLers are taking all the blame and it’s, I guess, the reason why we’re not going to be out there.”

Penguins winger Tomas Surovy will compete for Slovakia. He played for Slovakia at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Surovy tallied 12 goals and 13 assists in 53 games with the Penguins this year.

“It’s always an honor to play for my country. I am happy I am going there,” he said. “Usually, I never finish the season this early, so it’s nice to extend my season and play a little longer.”

Likewise, Penguins winger Konstantin Koltsov will play for Belarus. He played for Belarus at the 2002 Winter Olympics at last summer’s World Champoinships. Koltsov finished with three goals and six assists in 60 games with the Penguins this year.


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