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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sweden Hopes for Hockey Double

APRussia's Alexander Ovechkin
RIGA, Latvia -- Last year, when the ice hockey world championships were the only show in town, most of the game's best players were lined up to take part in the annual showcase.

This year, with the NHL labor dispute settled and the Stanley Cup playoffs occupying the spotlight, team managers from the top hockey-playing nations have once again been forced to go begging.

Cobbling together national teams at the end of a long and grueling NHL campaign has required an expert's sales pitch.

In the past, managers could count on luring a few frontline recruits from teams that failed to qualify for the NHL postseason.

But with many players feeling they have met their international obligations for the year by playing at the Turin Olympics, these world championships are proving a particularly tough sell.

Most of the teams taking part in the 16-nation tournament, which will run from May 5 to 21 in the Baltic nation, will not be hugely affected by the absence of the NHL players.

The top nations, however, will all be anxious to bolster their gold medal chances by inserting a few key pieces into their lineups.

If Sweden is to pull off an unprecedented golden double by adding a world championship to its Turin Olympic title, the Tre Kronor will have to do it without, among others, their brilliant netminder Henrik Lunqvist of the New York Rangers and veteran stalwart Mats Sundin of the Toronto Maples.

Six times since 1972, a world championship and Olympics have been staged in the same year but no country has ever won both.

The Czech Republic faces no less a challenge as it defends the world title it captured last year in Austria without the help of battered Ranger Jaromir Jagr, the NHL's second leading scorer this season, and injured Ottawa netminder Dominik Hasek.

With three Canadian teams (Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary) still in the chase for the Stanley Cup, interest in the world championships will be lowered but expectations will remain high.

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who was controversially left off the Canadian Olympic team by Wayne Gretzky, will still get the opportunity to cap off his stellar rookie campaign with a gold medal.

The championships could also add another chapter to what is developing into one of the NHL's great rivalries as Crosby, once again, goes toe-to-toe with Washington Capitals rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, who became just the fourth player in NHL history to score 50 goals in his rookie campaign, is expected to lead an explosive Russian team that will also include the hugely talented Yevgeny Malkin, widely regarded the best player outside the NHL.