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Senators worlds apart on global hockey stage

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Milan Michalek is set to help the Czech Republic defend its gold medal at the 2011 IIHF World Championship, which begins Friday in Slovakia (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).

Just three weeks ago, they shared a dressing room and a common goal.

But for a small contingent of Ottawa Senators, that mindset is about to be tossed out the window, even if it's just temporary. Indeed, it might be said they'll be worlds apart over during a 17-day stretch of hockey in Slovakia.

Bratislava and Kosice are the sites for the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championship, which begins on Friday. And a distinct Senators influence will be felt on five of the 16 entries in the annual global event.

Most notably, centre Jason Spezza — one of the National Hockey League's hottest point producers since the Feb. 28 — will suit up for Canada for the third time. Spezza has worn the red maple leaf on two previous occasions at the world tournament, winning silver medals in 2008 and 2009. For Spezza, the 2011 event is clearly about a singular goal.

"That's the only result I'm going there for," Spezza said of the opportunity to strike gold in Slovakia. "I've had personal success in tournaments before, but the gold medal has eluded me. I want to make sure I have a good tournament, play whatever role they want me to (play) and come back with the gold."

Spezza has scored goals in each of Canada's two pre-tournament games, including a 4-2 victory over the Czech Republic in Prague today.

Canada last won the world championship in 2007, when it beat Finland in the gold-medal game in Moscow. A year ago, Canada didn't make it past the quarter-finals, falling to Russia 5-2. The Canucks open this year's tournament Friday against Belarus (2 p.m., TSN). Also in their preliminary round Group B are France, whose roster includes Senators rookie forward Stéphane Da Costa, and Switzerland.

Forward Milan Michalek, meanwhile, would like to help his homeland retain its lofty status on the global stage. The Czech Republic enters this world championship as defending champion, having edged Russia 2-1 in the gold-medal game a year ago in Germany.

The Czechs open play Saturday against Latvia in Group D, which also includes Finland and Denmark.

Senators forward Ryan Shannon will make his second world championship appearance in three years for the United States, which joins Sweden, Norway and Austria in Group C. The Americans had a disappointing performance a year ago, winding up in the relegation round. They'll obviously be aiming for a finish closer to that of 2009, when the stars and stripes placed fourth

Shannon and the U.S. start Saturday against Austria, while Da Costa and France face the Swiss on Friday.

Two of the Senators' top prospects, defenceman David Rundblad and forward Jakob Silfverberg, are on the preliminary roster for a Sweden squad that again rates among the tournament favourites. The Swedes open Saturday against Norway.

The top three teams in each of four groups advance to a qualification round beginning May 5. Quarter-finals are set for May 11 and 12, followed by the semifinals on May 13 and the medal games on May 15.

TSN has coverage of all of Canada's games in the tournament and all U.S. games in the preliminary round, along with six qualification round matches, the quarter-finals, semis and both medal games.

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