And then the pot shots began. With players from Canada, Sweden, Russia, Austria, Germany, Finland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and the United States on their roster, national pride makes for interesting banter while the tournament is going on overseas.
“We still watch for sure and there’s always little jabs going around the room with all the different countries represented in our dressing room,” said centre Daniel Briere, a two-time gold medallist with Canada at the tournament. “Guys are watching and it’s fun to keep an eye on.”
It was a good day for the Canucks – Canada beat Belarus 6-3.
Sabres defenceman Jaroslav Spacek is outnumbered by the Canadians but the Czech native won’t back down in the banter.
“Just ask them how many world championships they got,” Spacek said with a smile, his country having dominated the tournament over the past decade.
There’s a few friendly bets to be had as one might expect. Except imagine Spacek’s surprise when German teammate Jochen Hecht approached him with an offer of a $1 bet ahead of Thursday’s Germany-Czech Republic game in Moscow – with each player flipping nationalities.
“I won 10 bucks because Jochen wanted to bet that the Czechs would beat Germany,” Spacek said laughing. “So I said, ‘I’ll take 10-1 odds,’ So he had to pay me 10 bucks because the Czechs actually lost to Germany (2-0)!”
Down the hall in the visitors’ dressing room, the world championship talk was also big among the New York Rangers as they prepared for Game 5 with the Sabres later that night.
“Yeah for sure,” said American centre Matt Cullen. “I reminded (Marcel) Hossa today that we beat Slovakia the other night (4-2 Thursday) so I was giving him a hard time.”
Cullen has played at four world championships and values the experience.
“It’s too bad it doesn’t get much of a buzz over here because it’s such good hockey,” said Cullen. “As a player it’s almost as fun a hockey you’re going to play. It’s wide-open ice, it’s a skill game, I had tons of fun playing it. And it’s good for you as a player because you’re able to work on things you’re not normally working on. It’s a great event.”
Briere considers his two world championships, 2003 at Helsinki and 2004 in Prague, as critical stages in his career.
“It gave me the confidence to realize that I can play with some of the best players in the world,” said Briere. “I had the chance to play with Dany Heatley and we kind of had that chemistry, those two years together.
“I looked at Dany Heatley, one of the best players in the world, and realized that if I could play with him and have that chemistry – it was huge for my confidence.
“I came back to the NHL and realized I belonged.”
Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr wanted so badly to represent his country in the 2002 world tournament in Goteberg, Sweden, that he played despite not being able to fully insure his monster NHL contract.
“I just wanted to play,” Jagr said Friday. “I promised them after the Olympics that I would play in the worlds if we (Washington) didn’t make the playoffs and we didn’t.”
And like several of his Rangers teammates, he’s on top of what’s going on in Moscow right now.
“I go on the Internet and check it out,” he said.
Sabres backup goalie Ty Conklin looks back fondly as his world championship experience, notably the 2004 event in Prague when he backstopped the U.S. to a stunning quarter-final win over Jagr and the host team.
“Probably one of the top memories in my career,” Conklin said. “We were such underdogs, too. They had a lot of pressure, being at home, there were expected to at the very least make it to the final four.”
Conklin and Cullen were teammates on the American squad, which captured a surprise bronze medal.
“We had a great time,” said Conklin. “I don’t think a lot of people expected much of us in that tournament, I think we overachieved maybe as a team.”