The Stanley Cup playoffs are going on, but the Calgary Flames aren’t playing in them. But before the crushing disappointment creeps back into your heart, consider an alternative: the 2018 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
The tournament begins today in Denmark. Here are a few Flames-related things to hold your attention over the next few weeks.
Bill Peters coaching a stacked Canadian team
We’re probably as guilty as the rest of the hockey world for crapping on the Carolina Hurricanes. But let’s be honest here: the ‘Canes underspent and were a tad under-manned during Peters’ time in Raleigh. Now that he’s been lured home to Alberta, he’ll get to coach a fully-resourced NHL club. For a preview, check out what he does with a Canadian team that boasts the likes of Connor McDavid, Bo Horvat and others. (Oh, and former Flames backup Curtis McElhinney!)
If you’re a fan of savouring someone else’s misery, Latvia’s being coached by former Flames bench boss Bob Hartley. They play Canada on May 14 and it should be a tad one-sided.
David Rittich chasing an international medal
Rittich had a big year in 2017-18, making the jump from American Hockey League starter to NHL backup. He struggled a bit during that month when Mike Smith was injured and Rittich had to be the de facto top dog, but the World Championship tournament might be a chance for him to get his swagger back. The other Czech goaltender is KHLer (and Colorado Avalanche signee) Pavel Francouz, so there’s every chance Rittich can cement himself as the starter in this tournament and make a push for an international medal – something he’s never gotten.
The first big test for the Czechs will be their May 6 date with Sweden. If they can get through that one unscathed, they may be destined for the podium.
Mikael Backlund chasing a gold medal
Backlund has been a regular on Sweden’s international teams since he was a teenager. He’s been to two Under-18s, two World Juniors, four World Championships and a World Cup. He’s won many medals, but he’s never captured a gold at any of those events. Oh, and it looks like Backlund will be the team captain for this tournament. If you’re hoping for Backlund to make a bold declaration of his excellence at an international event, this might be where he does it.
The biggest game for Sweden is likely the finale of the round robin on May 15 against Russia.
Johnny Gaudreau doing Johnny Gaudreau things
Gaudreau seems to excel at international tournaments. His big breakout as a prospect was at the 2013 World Juniors where he led the tournament in goals and captured a gold medal. He also performed well at two previous World Championships and was part of the scrappy upstart Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Gaudreau is a gamer and jumps on these types of situations. It’ll be fun to see if he can push the Americans into medal contention.
Can Gaudreau elevate the Americans? Their May 4 opener against Canada is probably the best litmus test for how good the United States can do in this event.