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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Slap Shots Primed for World Cup of Hockey

MONTREAL -- Finally, a real World Cup of ice hockey.

The inaugural eight-team World Cup begins Monday in Stockholm with Germany facing Sweden in a vastly different competition between the world's premier puck-playing nations than was seen in the tournament's predecessor -- the Canada Cup.

This time, games will be played in six countries, with North American National Hockey League players dominating the rosters of all but the German squad.

Alan Eagleson, who ran the Canada Cup almost single-handedly, is long gone.

And with North American NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association head Bob Goodenow running the show, it is now the United States -- not Canada -- that gets the choice travel schedule.

And the Americans have joined the traditional favorites -- Canada and Russia -- as favorites to win it all.

"The immediate threat to me is the Americans,'' said Edmonton Oilers boss Glen Sather, general manager and head coach of Canada's team. "They're the same as the Canadians -- lots of heart and desire.''

Wayne Gretzky's Canadian squad plays Russia in the first match for both teams next Thursday in Vancouver.

Two nights later, Canada meets the United States in Philadelphia's new 19,500-seat Core States Center. They close out round-robin play in the North American Pool against Slovakia on Sept. 1 in Montreal.

In what is called the European Pool are the Germans, Swedes, Finns and Czechs.

After a round of league play, the second- and third-place teams play a crossover, single-elimination, knockout second round.

The group winners play the second-round winners in the semifinals and the winners there face off in a best-of-three final series beginning Sept. 10 in Philadelphia.

The second game, and third if necessary, is scheduled for Montreal's new 21,361-seat Molson Center.

Canada won four of the five Canada Cup tournaments and the Soviets won the other in 1981. But times have changed.

Russia is no longer a faceless unit drilled to perfection by taskmaster coach Viktor Tikhonov but, rather, has become a collection of highly paid NHL-playing individuals just like the other teams.

Czechoslovakia used to be a dangerous opponent, but the split into separate Czech and Slovak republics produced two thin squads, each with its own nucleus of stars.

Sweden and Finland are now led by their young stars -- Peter Forberg and Saku Koivu -- and still have a knack for gelling into solid clubs when national pride is on the line.

For Canada, it's the last hurrah of the brilliant 1980s Edmonton Oilers, with Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey, all in their mid-30s, reunited for one more shot at a championship.

And it's a chance for Eric Lindros to assume his role as the new star of Canadian ice hockey in the absence of Mario Lemieux, who is saving his fragile health for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Russians will reunite their stellar youngbloods Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure and still have their three Alexeis -- Yashin, Zhamnov and Kovalev -- on the bench.

"Before it was almost a given that Canada and Russia would meet in the final,'' Messier said. "I don't think it's that way anymore.

"Canada is no longer a shoo-in.''

It could be the Americans' turn to shrug off any insecurity about playing Canada and demonstrate how their talent level has risen since they surprised the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

"This team has good balance,'' said LaFontaine.

"We didn't always have the guys who work in the corners like LeClair and Tkachuk.''