Rather than arranging tee times after the end of the ice hockey season, a small, but growing, number of professional players have opted to grab inline skates and represent their countries at the annual Inline World Championships, sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The 2010 tournament is underway at Lofbergs Lila Arena in Karlstad, Sweden, home of perennial Swedish Elite League powerhouse Farjestads BK. The competition, which includes the elite division and Division I tournaments running concurrently, will continue until July 4.
Among the pro ice hockey players taking part in the tournament, the two most prominent are Red Wings prospect Dick Axelsson (Team Sweden) and Philadelphia Flyers hopeful Patrick Maroon (Team USA).
Axelsson and the Swedes are aiming for their fourth-straight gold medal at the Inline Worlds, while first-time participant Maroon is looking to help the U.S. rebound from a disappointing last-minute loss to the Swedes in the deciding game of last year's tournament.
Both the Swedes and U.S. are 2-0 so far in this year's tournament.
In its tournament opener, Sweden routed Austria, 14-3, and followed by punishing Slovenia, 11-1. Team USA easily handled Canada, 7-2, and then blanked the Czech Republic, 4-0, in its second game. Next for the U.S. is a meeting with defending bronze medalist Germany.
Axelsson, who is considered one of the world's premier inline players, has 6 goals and an assist in the two games. The left wing recorded hat tricks against Austria and Slovenia. A year ago, Axelsson led all scorers with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) in six games. The previous year, he compiled 9 goals and 7 assists in six games en route to capturing Most Valuable Player honors and the gold medal.
However, Axelsson's ice hockey career has not progressed quite as smoothly.
A 2006 second-round (No. 62) pick by the Red Wings, Axelsson seemed to have a breakthrough season with Djurgardens IF in Elitserien in 2007-08, with 12 goals and 25 points in 47 games. Since then, he has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, and there have been complaints about his work ethic. He wore out his welcome with Djurgarden and transferred to Farjestad during the 2008-09 season. He split the 2009-10 campaign between the American Hockey League, where he scored 2 goals and 5 points in 17 games for Grand Rapids, and Farjestad, for whom Axelsson tallied 6 goals and 10 points in 15 games.
While the Red Wings are not giving up on the talented 23-year-old, it is clear that he will need to pick up the pace to make his NHL dreams come true.
Maroon also is no stranger to having his commitment questioned.
For years, the St. Louis native was dogged by questions about his conditioning to the point that he was tagged with the unwanted nickname "Fat Pat." To his credit, the left wing responded by dedicating himself to dieting and an intensive exercise regimen to remake his body into one worthy of being considered a power forward. A 2007 sixth-round pick (No. 161) by the Flyers, Maroon now packs 225 pounds onto his 6-foot-4 frame.
No one ever questioned Maroon's hands, as he has been a productive goal scorer at every level he has played.
In one OHL season as a member of the London Knights, Maroon led the club with 35 goals and 90 points in 65 games. He followed that with a 23-goal, 54-point rookie campaign in the American Hockey League in 2008-09. Last season, Maroon entered training camp being touted as a player with a chance to crack the Flyers NHL squad. Unfortunately, a preseason injury and a disappointing AHL season (11 goals, 44 points in 67 games) on a talent-starved Adirondack Phantoms club set back his ambitions, at least temporarily.
At 21, Maroon faces an important season in his development.
Maroon long has been a fine inline player and as one step toward staying in shape for the next ice hockey season, Maroon opted to join Team USA for the inline worlds. Maroon had two shots on goal but was held pointless in the opening game against Canada. In the 4-0 victory against the Czech Republic, Maroon opened the scoring with a power-play goal at the 6:03 mark of the first quarter (unlike ice hockey, the inline tournament in played with four 12-minute quarters).
In addition to Axelsson and Maroon, there are a handful of other players at the inline worlds who currently play ice hockey in the North American minor leagues or in European elite leagues. The most prominent of such players are Team Germany's Patric Reimer and Thomas Greilinger.
A member of the DEG Metro Stars, Reimer had 20 goals and 43 points in 56 DEL games this past season, and has 5 assists in two games at the Inline Worlds. Greilinger, a standout forward for Ingolstadt ERC, is one of the top scoring stars in the DEL, scoring 38 goals (tops in the league) and 73 points (second in the league) this past season. At the Inline Worlds, Greilinger has 4 goals in the two games. At last year's tourney in Ingolstadt, Greilinger had 12 assists to capture Best Forward honors in leading the Germans to the bronze.
This year, Germany finds itself in a tough spot. After dropping a 4-3 decision to Canada via shootout, the Germans are winless in the tourney. They will need an upset victory against Team USA to avoid the crossover round.