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Roussel excited to play World Championship in France

Klingberg, Honka, Nichushkin also playing in this year's tournament

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Antoine Roussel has played for France in the World Championship four times, but the fifth is going to be special. The 2017 IIHF World Championship, which gets underway Friday, will take place both in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany.

When asked about how nice it will be playing a World Championship in his home country of France, Roussel was ready with a smile and a one-liner.

"I'll tell you after," Roussel said.

The tournament will be a challenge for France, which is ranked 14th among the 16 competing teams, but Roussel sees the tournament as a great opportunity, not just to compete against some top players from around the world but to spark more interest in hockey in his home country as well.

"I am sure it is going to be a lot of fun," Roussel said. "We hope it is going to grow the game in France. When I started playing hockey in 1992, it was just after the Olympics in Albertville. I think that is why my parents started me playing hockey. Maybe more events like this will bring more French players to the big leagues."

Roussel missed the final 18 games of the NHL season due to a broken thumb, but he is healthy now. Roussel played in two pre-tournament games with France over the past week to gear up for the World Championship, where he has 19 points (nine goals, ten assists) in 29 career games for France. Eleven of those points (six goals, five assists) came in eight games in 2014 when Roussel helped France make the quarterfinal round at the tournament for the first time since 1995.

Roussel is hoping for another good run this year. He and Philadelphia's Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are the two NHL players on France's roster. There are a couple of other players with NHL experience, so there is some optimism heading into the tournament.  

"This is the first time I've been on it with four guys that have touched the NHL, so we have that experience," Roussel said. "We were to the quarterfinals three years ago, and everybody's target is higher every year. So, it's going to be good."

Roussel isn't the only Dallas player in Paris and Cologne. Stars defensemen John Klingberg and Julius Honka will also suit up at the World Championship. This will be Klingberg's second time playing for Sweden at the tournament.

"For sure, it's [very competitive]. It's the best players in Europe and some players from the NHL," Klingberg said. "When you have an opportunity to play for your country, it's an opportunity you should take. It's a fun experience as well, and you get to play more hockey. That's not a bad thing."

Klingberg and Roussel are in different groups at the tournament, so they won't play against each other in the preliminary round. But there is a chance Sweden and France could meet in the playoffs. Klingberg addressed the possibility of squaring off with Roussel.

"I don't like playing against him. He's always forechecking me hard in practice," Klingberg said. "That would be fun, but I would not like to play against him."

Klingberg played two pre-tournament games for Sweden recently, registering four points (two goals, two assists). He missed the third and final pre-tournament game after taking a stick to the mouth and losing a couple of teeth, but he is fine and will be part of an impressive Swedish defense that also includes Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman and Arizona's Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

This will be Honka's first appearance at the World Championship for Finland. He played in two pre-tournament games and recorded one assist while playing on the top defense pairing. Dallas forward prospect Roope Hintz was in the running for a spot on Finland's roster but was among the final cuts.

Also taking part in this year's World Championship is forward Valeri Nichushkin who, of course, will play for Russia. Nichushkin is still in the Dallas system but played in the KHL this past season. Nichushkin has four assists in six games with the Russian national team this season.

2017 IIHF World Championship

When: May 5 to May 21

Where: Pairs, France and Cologne, Germany

Who: 16 Teams
Group A: Russia, United States, Sweden, Slovakia, Germany, Latvia, Denmark, Italy
Group B: Canada, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Belarus, Norway, France, Slovenia

Format: Preliminary round consists of round-robin play within each group with top four teams advancing to single elimination playoff round that include quarterfinals and semifinals. Winners of the semis play for gold and losers in the semis play for bronze.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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