Eyes on the prize

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

TORONTO -- A glance at the combatants in the 2007 world junior championship:

GROUP A

CANADA

Coach: Craig Hartsburg

The skinny: With 11 players returning, including five on defence, Canada is the favourite to win its third gold in a row ... Five players (G Leland Irving, D Karl Alzner, F Sam Gagner, F Jonathan Toews and F Brad Marchand) are eligible to return for the 2008 world junior in the Czech Republic ... Canada has not won gold in Europe since winning in Geneva in 1997 when it beat the U.S. in the championship game.

UNITED STATES

Coach: Ron Rolston

The skinny: Whether the U.S. can get anything close to team chemistry, which has been a sore point, will play a large factor ... Not all are convinced G Jeff Frazee can get it done ... There are seven underagers up front. Even though one is OHL leading scorer Patrick Kane, that could be too many.

SWEDEN

Coach: Torgny Bendelin

The skinny: Why did Sweden want to host in 2007? Because they think they can win this year ... In the past five years, Sweden has not finished higher than fifth and has no medals in 10 years ... Along with Nicklas Backstrom, one forward to watch will be Nicklas Bergfors, who has spent the past 1 1/2 years with New Jersey's farm club.

SLOVAKIA

Coach: Jan Jasko

The skinny: As many as six players who were on the club that was eighth last year were eligible to return ... F Juraj Mikus, who plays for Chicoutimi of the QMJHL, will be a cog up front ... Fourteen players on the Slovakia preliminary roster play in the Canadian Hockey League.

GERMANY

Coach: Ernst Hofner

The skinny: Will Germany finish ninth or 10th? Oh, the suspense ... Former NHL defenceman Uwe Krupp is back as an assistant coach ... Three forwards - Phillip Gogulla, Christoph Gawlik and Felix Schutz - played for Germany as it won 2006 senior men's world title.

GROUP B

RUSSIA

Coach: Evgeni Popikhin

The skinny: In recent years, Russia has hung its hat on stars Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. There's no one of that calibre on this club ... F Alexei Cherepanov, 17, will be one to watch despite his age ... Russia, which lost to Canada in the past two gold-medal games, is looking for its first gold since 2003. It is unlikely to get it.

FINLAND

Coach: Jarmo Tolvanen

The skinny: F Leo Komarov could be the lone Maple Leafs prospect in the tournament ... Experience is key for the Finns, who had just three 18-year-olds on its preliminary roster ... Effort is never a problem. The Finns have won bronze four of the past five years ... G Tuukka Rask probably is the best netminder in the tournament.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Coach: Vladimir Bednar

The skinny: F Michael Frolik of Rimouski of the QMJHL will be a key ... Also among the 17 players on the preliminary roster who are in the CHL is starting G Ondrej Pavelec.

SWITZERLAND

Coach: Jakob Kolliker

The skinny: The Swiss pour lots of money into their junior program but talent can't be produced ... It has been nine years since the Swiss's only medal, a bronze.

BELARUS

Coach: Eduard Zankovets

The skinny: In each of the past two times (2005, 2003) Belarus has taken part, it has been 10th ... F Sergei Kostitsyn has been a solid member of the London Knights the past two seasons.


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