Weight of the world

It’s game on.

The NHL playoffs are underway, and in a country where the sport of hockey is woven into the very fabric of its culture, the race for the Stanley Cup matters … a lot.

This time around four Canadian teams have made the playoffs – the Maple Leafs for the first time in nine years. The Canucks, Canadiens and Senators will join them in chasing hockey’s Holy Grail. Defining which of these rosters make up ‘Canada’s team’ is a hot topic of debate.

But the truth of the matter is ‘Canada’s team’ is not in the NHL playoffs at all.

It will be in Stockholm, Sweden fighting for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Championship title.

For the Canadians, ranked fifth heading into Sochi based on their 2012 world tournament, the tournament is an opportunity to make a final impression on GM Steve Yzerman and his staff before they decide the Olympic roster.

“We have received a great response from the players that we have approached, and we are very pleased with the roster that we have assembled to date,” said Yzerman, a two-time Olympian and 2002 gold medallist.  “We look forward to getting together as a team in Stockholm.”

Yzerman will be joined on the selection committee by Doug Armstrong, Ken Holland, Kevin Lowe, Bob Nicholson and Brad Pascall who will have a close eye on the field.

Canada’s 2013 roster includes eleven players with World Championship experience, and 16 of the 22 players have international experience. However, only one player has Olympic experience – Eric Staal (Thunderbay, ON) of the Carolina Hurricanes and a member of the 2010 gold medal team. Six of the 22 are getting their first crack of international experience representing the Maple Leaf.

Furthermore, the team will be led by Lindy Ruff – an associate coach under Mike Babcock at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Ruff has firsthand experience of what it takes to win and will be a valuable presence behind the bench.

This is another opportunity to impress for NHL superstars like Steve Stamkos (Markham, ON) and Claude Giroux (Hearst, ON) and rising stars Matt Duchene (Haliburton, ON), Jordan Eberle (Regina, SK) and Taylor Hall (Kingston, ON) – all looking to make their Olympic debuts.

Despite the impressive names on the game sheet at this tournament, Canadian hockey fans have historically paid more attention to the NHL playoffs – where the this season’s most successful players will battle for the Stanley Cup.

Worlds are never viewed as a proper gage of a country’s true standing, not when 18 of Canada’s 23 Vancouver gold medallists are unable to compete this year due to being in a playoff chase with their respective NHL teams. An additional two skaters – Scott Niedermayer (Cranbrook, BC) and Chris Pronger (Dryden, ON) – have also since retired.

The Worlds have generally received good ratings the last couple years. This year’s ratings could see an increase when you consider what could be at stake for the athletes.

But you can bet, in true Canadian fashion, that the team selected will be playing for nothing but a gold medal over the 16 days of competition taking place.

Canada plays its first round robin game on Saturday, May 4 at 10:15 a.m. EST against Denmark.