Jhonas Enroth wants to impress the home folks. Andrej Sekera and Miroslav Satan hope to earn an Olympic berth for their country. Ted Nolan is coaching a small European nation respected for its love of hockey.
The world hockey championships don’t get the recognition bestowed up on the Olympics or world juniors, and only two members of the Buffalo Sabres are participating. But there are still story lines as the 16-nation tournament starts Friday in Finland and Sweden.
Enroth is one of the three goaltenders for co-host Sweden. The Buffalo backup is the only one with NHL experience and is hopeful of significant playing time in his hometown of Stockholm.
Sekera joins Boston captain Zdeno Chara and former Sabres forwards Satan and Milan Bartovic on a motivated Slovakian squad. Slovakia is ranked 10th by the International Ice Hockey Federation, and only the top nine countries will secure an automatic berth to the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
As usual, the American and Canadian teams feature NHL-laden lineups. Former Buffalo defenseman Chris Butler is on the U.S. squad, but Sabres left wing Nathan Gerbe dropped out with a lower-back injury.
Nolan, the previous coach of the Sabres, will lead Latvia for the first time after being hired last summer. Nolan is the first North American coach for the country since 1939. The nation of just more than 2 million has advanced to the last 16 world championships but has only four quarterfinal appearances.
Other former Sabres participating include Russia’s Dmitri Kalinin, Czech Republic’s Jiri Novotny and Germany’s Felix Schutz and Philip Gogulla. NHL notables include Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Zetterberg of Sweden, and Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk of Russia.
Teams can add to their roster up until two hours before each game, which conclude with the gold-medal championship May 20 in Helsinki, Finland. For the first time, two countries will host the tournament. Sweden and Finland will split the preliminary round and quarterfinals, then the semis and medal round will be held solely in Helsinki.
All 64 games can be viewed for free at YouTube.com/ice hockey. NBC Sports Network will televise all the U.S. games and the medal round. The Americans open the tourney against France at 5:15 a.m. Friday.