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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hosts Hope for Return to Golden Era

ST. PETERSBURG -- Playing at home and boosted by the presence of one of the NHL's brightest stars, Russia is leaving nothing to chance in its quest to recapture its former glory days as the Soviet Union and its first hockey world championship title in seven years.

In contrast, reigning Olympic and world champions Czech Republic - forsaken by longtime coach Ivan Hlinka, the mastermind behind the nation's recent successes, and abandoned by its top NHLers - enter the championships, which start Saturday and run through May 14, troubled and unsure.

The Czechs, who have already demonstrated they can win without Olympic hero Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres or NHL scoring leader Jaromir Jagr of Pittsburgh, will now have to show they can win without Hlinka, whose Midas touch has led to a hot job as head coach of the Penguins next season.

Only three Czech NHLers accepted invitations to play in Russia, but the Czechs will not lack experience with three members of the 1998 Olympic gold medal winning team, Pavel Patera, Martin Prochazka and Jiri Dopita, pulling on the country's jersey once again.

There will be no lack of recognizable names on the Russian roster, with the NHL's leading goal-scorer Pavel Bure headlining an all-star cast of NHLers that includes Blackhawks' Alexei Zhamnov and New York Rangers' Valeri Kamensky.

Coach Alexander Yakushev will rely heavily on Bure, but remains hopeful that Ottawa Senators' wayward superstar Alexei Yashin will also be allowed in the lineup.

The NHL has prohibited Yashin from playing at the worlds because he is still under suspension by the Senators after a seasonlong contract dispute.

An arbitrator will rule on Yashin's participation Saturday.

But even with home ice advantage and the Russian Rocket leading the way, the hosts will be hard-pressed to reclaim their glorious past.

Finland, runners-up the last two years, are once again expected to be in the medal hunt, despite icing fewer NHL stars than usual, its top recruits from North America being Canadiens' Juha Lind and Los Angeles Kings' Olli Jokinen.

The U.S. squad will blend youth and experience, with just half the team stocked from the NHL, the rest scavenged from European pro, minor and college leagues.

Sweden, the 1998 champions, will be bolstered by the addition of Oilers' netminder Tommy Salo, Tampa Bay's Michael Nylander, the prodigious Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, Blackhawks' Anders Eriksson and Los Angeles Kings' Mattias Norstrom.