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Thursday, December 27, 2012
Worlds craze will heat up without NHL

By Pierre LeBrun

The IIHF world junior championship in Ufa, Russia, is taking center stage in the hockey world over the holidays even more than usual thanks to the NHL lockout.

Hockey-starved fans in North America need a fix and finally got it with Canada and the United States both waxing Germany to open their respective world junior campaigns.

With the NHL Network in the U.S. carrying the Canadian TSN feed for the world junior games involving Team USA and Team Canada, it’s a holiday present for fans.

Just imagine, however, if there’s no NHL season and how it would impact the men’s IIHF championship May 3-19 in Helsinki and Stockholm.

Picture Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, well ... the list would go on and on in terms of NHL superstars who would likely make their way to the men’s worlds.

The United States, which no doubt could have the likes of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Ryan Miller among other NHL stars, is in a preliminary group in Helsinki to start the May tournament, while Canada -- which could also count the likes of Claude Giroux, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty among others -- is in a group in Stockholm for the May tournament.

"There certainly is potential for that tournament to be a big stage for all of the world's very best players because there are a lot of guys anxious to compete and play real meaningful hockey," Miller told ESPN.com via email Thursday. "I think if the NHL situation gets worse then that tournament becomes a chance to compete and build some chemistry in anticipation of the Sochi Olympics. I hope many of USA hockey's players will see it the same way and be available. I know I would love to be considered to play."

"Hockey Canada wants NHL hockey to start ASAP, but if there is no season, Canada will start preparation early to send the best players to Sweden for the men's world championships," Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson told ESPN.com via email Thursday.

Just consider it an Olympic tournament less than a year before the real Olympic tournament in Sochi, Russia.

That was the case eight years ago in Austria when the who’s who of NHL stars played in the 2005 men’s worlds thanks to the lockout wiping out the whole season in North America. The tourney in Innsbruck and Vienna featured many of the same NHL stars who would skate less than a year later in Torino, Italy, in the 2006 Olympics.

Joe Thornton and Rick Nash went 1-2 in overall tournament scoring that year in Austria, a tourney that also featured the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Jaromir Jagr, Henrik Zetterberg, the Sedin twins, Daniel Alfredsson, Shane Doan, Dan Boyle, Marian Hossa ... the list went on and on.

Jagr’s Czechs topped Martin Brodeur’s Team Canada 3-0 in the gold medal final.

I was among the media throng from North America that descended upon Austria for the 2005 worlds and, let me tell you, it was certainly nice to cover the highest-level hockey after a wiped-out NHL season.

Could the IIHF men’s world benefit again eight years later? We’ll find out within the next two to three weeks whether there’s a new CBA in the NHL or a cancelled season.

Just in case, I’ll let you know Team USA opens the 2013 men’s world May 4 against Austria in Helsinki, while Team Canada goes the same day in Stockholm against Denmark.

We’ll have NHL stars in action this spring. It’s just a matter of knowing whether it’s on both sides of the Atlantic or not.