It's the tournament that nobody seems to really care about. This is playoff season after all, and while the entire hockey fan base focuses on the seven-game, beard-filled classics, a little tournament on the other side of the world takes place—the 2011 IIHF World Championships.
Yeah, that tournament.
It's been a while since Canada took home the, well, whatever they win over there—since 2007, to be exact—but they come into this year with a lineup full of firepower. Oh, and a few members of the Toronto Maple Leafs too.
Three members of the Leafs made the trip over to Slovakia, and while there are others playing for rival teams, we'll just stick with the Canadians for now—it's not like you have that much extra time, what with all the overtime and Game 7 magic that's been happening every night—so we won't push it.
Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf (named assistant captain of Canada), Luke Schenn and rookie sensation James Reimer are all present at the event that begins on Friday, and all look to play prominent roles throughout.
So as a Leafs fan, you may not get to watch your club in the playoffs this season—you're used to that by now—but there's still an opportunity to see the Buds in action. They'll just be wearing red.
They kicked off the pre-tournament games on Wednesday with a 4-2 win against the defending champion Czech Republic. James Reimer was between the pipes and stopped 23 shots in the win. Luke Schenn added a goal to round out the Leafs participation.
It's a chance for all three young Leafs to gain experience and play with some of the best players in the game, including Rick Nash—a regular of the international game, including the 2010 Olympics. The player with the most to gain from it all is probably Reimer, who jumped into the NHL this season largely as an unknown, and finished as a fan favourite, and a hero in the city.
More experience can only be good for Reimer and his future with the Leafs.
But all three players will gain from it—especially Phaneuf and Reimer, who didn't play a full season this year and will be playing with NHL talent. It will be more time to get to where they want to be heading into next season.
So if you find yourself longing to see a few Leafs players in action on Friday afternoon, they kick off their games against Belarus on Friday afternoon at 2:15 PM ET on TSN.
And by the way, Belarus just named Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski team captain, something that would have been somewhat of a joke just a year ago, but now makes perfect sense.
*Okay fine, we'll talk about the non-Canadians too, but only briefly. You've no doubt got to update your playoff pool, or check your beard's progress in the mirror again.
Their are 12 Leafs players in total at the Worlds, and aside from the Canadians and Belorussians, there will be two playing for the Americans (Mike Komisarek, Mike Brown), one for Russia (Nikolai Kulemin), two for Germany (Korbinian Holzer, Marcel Mueller) and one for Slovakia (Juraj Mikus).
Phil Kessel was invited, but declined to go, opting for rest instead. Must have been all that back-checking that tired him out.