IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: The puck drops here!
Finnish Lions seek to retain World Championship title on home ice
Today's the day.
The 2012 Ice Hockey World Championships begin in earnest today, Friday, with six Preliminary Round matches being contested in the two host cities of Helsinki and Stockholm.
For the Finns, there is more at stake than pride in staging a good tournament - the Finnish Lions are the reigning World Champions after their win in Bratislava last May, and they will naturally be trying to score a third title, this time on home ice.
To be quite frank, the omens for this happening are not awfully good, as the last time a host country emerged winners after the final buzzer was back in 1986.
On that occasion it was the Soviet Union's "Red Machine" who were victorious in Moscow, and serious hockey fans know that the USSR team of that era could beat most opponents blindfolded and wearing only one skate, and had won five titles in the previous six years.
Things are a great deal more competitive now, and very little can be taken for granted, even in the early round robin stages of the tournament.
Finland begin their campaign with a match at 20:15 tonight against Belarus, and the Lions will also have to meet Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Slovakia, France and Kazakhstan in Group H in the Hartwall Arena.
Stockholm's Globen is the venue for Group S matches involving last year's runners-up Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Latvia, Denmark, and Italy.
The top four teams in each group will progress to the quarterfinals stage, where the group winner meets the fourth placed team and the group runner-up meets the third placed team within the same group.
The team occupying the bottom spot in each group is relegated to Division I, Group A.
At the semi-final stages, teams from the Helsinki and Stockholm groups finally come up against one another, leading to the final on Sunday May 20th.
The semi-finals and the bronze medal game and final will all be played here in Helsinki.
Fifteen of last year's gold medallists will be representing Finland again this time, but none of the players who achieved the country's first-ever win back in 1995.
Head coach Jukka Jalonen has left out the old legends and has gone with players he knows and trusts.
He has also looked east more than west for his team, as the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) provides 12 members of the squad, against only four players brought in from teams eliminated from the playoffs of the North American NHL.
Today's games are as follows (all times Helsinki - GMT+3):
12:15 USA - France
16:15 Canada - Slovakia
20:15 Belarus - Finland
13:15 Germany - Italy
17:15 Czech Republic - Denmark
21:15 Sweden - Norway
More on this subject:
IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: An assured but somewhat distant leader for the Lions
IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: A tournament in the likeness of Kalervo Kummola
2012 IIHF World Championships (Wikipedia)
IIHF Official site