The 76th IIHF World Hockey Championship gets underway in Helsinki and Stockholm on Friday. Here's a closer look at the top-ranked nations heading into the event:
IIHF World Ranking: 1.
Last year: Gold.
Players to watch: Kari Lehtonen, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund.
Notable no-shows: Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Joni Pitkanen.
Outlook: The tournament begins amid some controversy for the defending champions as coach Jukka Jalonen selected a team with just four NHL players. However, he does return with 15 of the men who captured the country's second ever world championship gold a year ago. More than 100,000 fans celebrated that victory in Helsinki's market square and the party would be even bigger if they could repeat the feat.
IIHF World Ranking: 2.
Last year: Silver.
Players to watch: Henrik Zetterberg, Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson.
Notable no-shows: Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin.
Outlook: Let's call them the favourites. A star-studded roster will enjoy the added benefit of playing most of the event on home ice in Stockholm, making the Tre Kronor a force. The team is so deep that captain Daniel Alfredsson finds himself playing on the second line. They're looking to capture the country's first world championship gold since 2006.
IIHF World Ranking: 3.
Last year: Fourth.
Players to watch: Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Semyon Varlamov.
Notable no-shows: Sergei Gonchar.
Outlook: The Russians should benefit from a strong turnout once again as virtually all of the country's top available players answered the call. They'll have to make due without Ilya Kovalchuk for the first time since 2006 — he's still playing with the New Jersey Devils — but Evgeni Malkin is more than capable of picking up the slack. It would be a surprise if they left without a medal of some colour.
IIHF World Ranking: 4.
Last year: Bronze.
Players to watch: David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec, Milan Michalek.
Notable no-shows: Tomas Fleischmann, Vinny Prospal, Jiri Hudler.
Outlook: Strong down the middle with Krejci and Plekanec, the Czechs are looking to continue their resurgence on the international scene. The gold in 2010 and bronze last year came on the heels of three straight world championships off the podium. They're among the top contenders again.
IIHF World Ranking: 5.
Last year: Fifth.
Players to watch: Jordan Eberle, John Tavares, Cam Ward.
Notable no-shows: Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews.
Outlook: Hockey Canada has assembled a young team with consistent NHL point producers throughout the lineup. The biggest question mark comes on defence, particularly with the loss of P.K. Subban to a knee injury on the eve of the tournament. That leaves Luke Schenn as the only right-handed shot on the blue-line. Having goaltender Cam Ward — a world champion in 2007 — is a major plus.
IIHF World Ranking: 6.
Last year: Eighth.
Players to watch: Jimmy Howard, Max Pacioretty, Jack Johnson.
Notable no-shows: Ryan Miller, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel.
Outlook: Success has been elusive at this tournament for the U.S., which has claimed only two bronze medals in the last four decades. However, the Americans enter with some optimism because of Howard, the No. 1 goaltender, and a defence general manager Brian Burke describes as the country's best in years. They could deliver a surprise performance as a result.
IIHF World Ranking: 7.
Last year: Ninth.
Players to watch: Mark Streit, Nino Niederreiter, Luca Sbisa.
Notable no-shows: Jonas Hiller, Yannick Weber.
Outlook: The president of the Swiss federation has made it clear he expects a quarter-final appearance — no small achievement in a group that also features Canada, Russia, Slovakia, the U.S. and Belarus, among others. Canadian-born coach Sean Simpson should have a strong lineup at his disposal, although goaltending could become an issue with Hiller electing to give the event a pass. Either way, you can count on the Swiss giving Canada a good game when the teams meet in the round robin. They always do.
IIHF World Ranking: 8.
Last year: Seventh.
Players to watch: Marcel Goc, Justin Krueger, Christoph Schubert.
Notable no-shows: Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Seidenberg, Thomas Greiss.
Outlook: The focus for the Germans is also centred around making an appearance in the quarter-finals. That means finishing at least fourth in the Stockholm pool that features Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Latvia, among others. Uwe Krupp's team has shown in the past that it is capable of being more than the sum of its parts.
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