For the past 35 seasons, many NHL players have found the next best thing to winning a Stanley Cup in any given spring has been the opportunity to capture the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship gold medal.
Ten days from now in Germany, players will return to the World Championship tournament to resume a quest for gold that has featured virtually every NHL star since the league was first given the green light to join in the prestigious event in 1976.
|Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy, whose journey to the NHL involved a remarkable college hockey career, will be getting his first taste of a major international hockey stage in Germany next month. |
Up to nine Rangers players and prospects might be competing in this year's tournament -- which would be the Blueshirts' largest contingent of roster players since 1993. Nine representatives would tie the all-time franchise record for members of the Blueshirts organization in the tournament, a mark achieved at the 1985 and 1987 Worlds.
Forward Brandon Dubinsky
, defenseman Matt Gilroy, and 2009 first-round pick Chris Kreider
will skate for Team USA, while defensemen Marc Staal
and Michael Del Zotto
, along with goaltender Chad Johnson
, have also already earned spots on the Canadian roster. Johnson, who split the season between the Rangers and Hartford Wolf Pack, was the latest addition on Saturday
Of this group, only Dubinsky, who finished sixth with Team USA in 2008, has been to a World Championship tournament before.
The Americans, who have not won the World gold since 1933, begin play on May 7 vs. host Germany in Gelsenkirchen. Staal and Team Canada get under way the following day against Italy at Mannheim, Germany.
Two Russian Rangers could be playing in the tournament this year. Forward Artem Anisimov
is on the Russian roster, which is yet to be cut down and will likely be affected further by the addition of NHL players exiting the Stanley Cup playoffs before Russia's May 9 opener vs. Slovakia. Anisimov will take part in this weekend's LG Games in Sweden along with Rangers teammate Enver Lisin, who is also on the Russian squad and under consideration for a spot on the World Championship team.
The eighth Blueshirt who might play in Germany is defenseman Michal Rozsival, who represented his native Czech Republic in 2008. He is also a potential member of the Czech team set to open play on May 9 vs. France. Neither nation has announced a final roster.
The Rangers players' participation in the 2010 World Championship continues a run of 16 consecutive years in which the Blueshirts have had at least one roster player or prospect in the tournament. During that time, 10 gold medals have gone to players with Rangers ties. Most recently, it was Nikolai Zherdev taking gold with Russia in last year's tournament.
|SWEDE MEMORIES |
• The first Rangers player to win an IIHF World Championship gold medal was Tomas Sandstrom with Sweden in 1987.
• The first unsigned Rangers draft pick to win an IIHF World Championship gold medal was Kim Johnsson with Sweden in 1998.
• The first Rangers goalie to compete in an IIHF World Championship tournament was Hardy Astrom with Sweden in 1978.
Since the first NHL presence at the World Championship in 1976, the Rangers have been represented in 28 of 35 years. That dates back to the first Rangers contingent in 1977, a group that included Hall of Famers Rod Gilbert and Phil Esposito, as well as Carol Vadnais and Mark Heaslip -- the first Rangers player to skate for Team USA.
Gilroy, Dubinsky and Kreider will become the first Rangers trio to skate for the U.S. at the Worlds since Chris Tamer and Mike Knuble made the 1999 team along with then-Rangers prospect Mike Mottau. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals that year.
If Gilroy, Dubinsky and Kreider can earn a medal this time around, they will make history as the first American Rangers players to gain World hardware.
Mike Richter and Brian Leetch never finished higher than sixth place for Team USA, but several other Rangers players and prospects were part of fourth-place American showings. The group included John Vanbiesbrouck, Corey Millen, Tony Granato, Bob Brooke, and Kelly Miller in 1985, and Tony Amonte and Brian Mullen in 1991.
The 1985 tournament in Prague was particularly special for the Blueshirts, because it featured a record nine Rangers players or prospects, with most of them heading for Czechoslovakia after the Blueshirts lost a first-round playoff series to Philadelphia. The Blueshirts tied that record with nine players and prospects in 1987.
In 1993, when the Rangers missed the playoffs, they sent eight roster players to the World Championship tournament in Germany That group included five -- Adam Graves, Richter, Ed Olczyk, Alexander Karpovtsev and Esa Tikkanen --who would win go on to win the Stanley Cup the following year.
Thus, the return of the World Championships to Germany in another non-playoff year for the Blueshirts could be a very good omen for next season. The Worlds, of course, don't always lead players to the Stanley Cup, but they remain one of the best postseason alternative for youngsters like Gilroy, Dubinsky, Staal, Anisimov, Del Zotto and Kreider to develop their skills and build confidence heading into the following season.
The tournament runs from the May 7 opening game between Team USA and Germany until the gold-medal game on May 23 at Cologne.