The Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing, so it’s easy to lose sight of any other hockey being played right now. However, there is a little international tournament we should all be paying attention to and it starts this week: the 2012 IIHF World Championships. The tournament runs from May 4-20 in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden, with the championship rounds hosted in Helsinki.
International hockey tournaments are often played overseas and hard to find on television, so you might not have followed the World Championships of yesteryear. However, NBC Sports Network will broadcast all of Team USA’s games, all four quarterfinal games, at least one semifinal matchup and the gold medal game. If that’s not reason enough to follow tournament play, Wild.com has five reasons fans in the State of Hockey should keep an eye on the action.
Flying Finns – Finland looks to defend last year’s gold medal win at the World Championships on their home turf with Wild captain Mikko Koivu leading the charge. Koivu will captain the squad again this year as Team Finland comes into the pre-Championships ranked first in the world.
Koivu and the top ranked Finns will be joined by Minnesota prospect Mikael Granlund, and Wild fans will not want to miss the opportunity to see him in game action. You’ve probably seen Granlund’s ridiculous lacrosse-style goal in the semifinals against Team Russia last year on Wild TV, but Wild fans have a chance to see the Finnish phenomenon live at least once during the tournament. Team Finland will take on Team USA at 8:15 a.m. CST on Mother’s Day, May 13. So make your mom some Tippaleipä and enjoy the game together.
More Wild Prospects – Along with Granlund, as of today the Wild has four more prospects that could see action at the tournament.
Goaltender Matt Hackett was added to Team Canada’s roster on Saturday, and is slated as the third goalie behind Cam Ward (Carolina) and Devan Dubnyk (Edmonton). This will be Hackett’s first time representing Canada in international competition.
Two Wild draft picks – both who are no strangers to international competition – are currently on Team Sweden’s roster according to NHL.com. Jonas Brodin (first round, 10th overall, 2011) and Johan Larsson (second round, 56th overall, 2010) led Team Sweden to a World Junior Championship gold medal earlier this year. Team Sweden’s World Championship roster is pretty loaded and looks like it still hasn’t been finalized, so it is unknown how much the prospects will play if they are kept on the team.
Wild free agent signee, goaltender Dennis Endras skated in a pair of exhibition games over the weekend with Team Germany at the Skoda Cup. Endras looks to continue his stellar play in international competition, as he was named MVP of the 2010 World Championship helping lead Germany to a 4th place finish going 4-2 with a 1.15 goals against average and a .961 save percentage.
State of Hockey Connections – We like to keep an eye on those hailing from the State of Hockey, especially when they are skating for Team USA. There are five Minnesotans on Team USA’s roster: D Justin Braun, Minneapolis; F J.T. Brown, Burnsville; D Justin Faulk, South St. Paul; D Alex Goligoski, Grand Rapids; and F Kyle Okposo, St. Paul. Team USA has another State of Hockey connection in Ryan Lasch, Lake Forest, Calif., who starred at St. Cloud State University from 2006-10.
Usually during the NHL season, we can’t root for these Minnesotans because they don’t play for the Wild. However, any player who rocks the red, white and blue for our home country should be lauded.
International Rules – There are several differences in NHL and international hockey rules. The most noticeable is the surface difference of the ice rinks. The international ice surface or “Olympic” ice is 61 meters by 30 meters (Oh wait, since we were talking international hockey I forgot to convert meters into feet. My bad). For the metric system impaired, international ice is 200 feet by 98 feet. NHL rinks are 200 feet by 85 feet. That is a lot less room from wall to wall in the NHL game.
The international style of play is a lot more freewheeling with fewer big hits, mainly because players have much more room to maneuver and make plays. So, while there is likely to be less physicality than the NHL playoffs, we might enjoy a bump in goal scoring.
Gold versus Sterling Silver – I think you’ll all agree the Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in all of sports. If you win it, you get your name engraved on the side, which is awesome. The downfall is you only get to spend one day with the Cup. The Stanley Cup winning owner buys rings for the team, but they don’t get them until the following season. If your team wins the IIHF World Championships, your team not only gets a chalice trophy to sip sweet victory juice from, but you also get to take home a gold medal right after the game, which is rad. This year’s IIHF World Championship gold medal was designed by Tapio Kettunen and is titled “Winning Goal.” Check out the photo below; pretty cool.