Huge stage awaits U.S.

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Brian Burke and Ron Wilson would prefer to be busy with the Maple Leafs early next May, but one or both could be part of a world-record hockey crowd in Germany.

When the host nation takes on Team USA at Veltins-Arena at Gelsenkirchen on May 7 to kick off the IIHF world championships, a record crowd of 76,000 is expected. That would break the mark of 74,554 from the Michigan-Michigan State NCAA game in East Lansing eight years ago. It would be almost twice the crowd at the NHL's Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Fenway Park in Boston.

Burke and Wilson will be running the American show in Vancouver in February as general manager and coach, respectively. Burke said yesterday that nothing beyond that is settled, pending the Olympic results and a spring playoff push by the Leafs.

But filling the stands in the re-configured Gelsenkirchen shouldn't be a problem.

"If everybody with a ticket comes, we will break the record," Franz Reindl, general secretary of the German Ice Hockey Association, told the IIHF's website.

"We want to sell world-class hockey in Germany, and this includes the opening game as a special highlight for every fan because they can take part in a historic event. (It's) for our sport, for the IIHF and all member nations, and to lift hockey up in the sport market."

The retractable-roof soccer stadium features a 16,000-person standing room area that rises from field level to two-thirds of the way to the roof. Soccer fans at Schalke 04 club games make it an event, with chants, gigantic banners and burning road flares.

Meanwhile, the Wild is bidding for Minneapolis-St. Paul to host a future NHL outdoor game, arguing the area is the home of pond hockey in the U.S.

Miller: Time for action

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, a member of the competition committee and a proponent of taking action on head shots, wasn't too hopeful when the league announced it would create a study group on the issue to report back in March.

"It's been the slowest reaction I've ever seen to anything," Miller said. "This was brought up years ago. We asked for something, and we asked for their respect in looking into it. Players have asked for it to be taken seriously every year, and there's no appetite for it. It's never going to go through on a vote."

Miller is good friends with David Booth of the Florida Panthers, who was concussed as a result of a hit delivered by Mike Richards last month.

Getting richer with Rich

Upon further review, the Nashville Predators would not have put centre Rich Peverley on waivers last season. They chose instead to keep two players up who didn't require waivers and lost Peverley to Atlanta.

From 20 points in 73 games for Nashville, Peverley has 57 in 57 games for the Thrashers, though a lot of those came courtesy of Ilya Kovalchuk.

"There was a strong feeling that players such as Mike Santorelli and Cal O'Reilly (two goals in 18 games between them so far this season) could do the same job as Peverley,'' Preds coach Barry Trotz said in reflection. "Sometimes you just need a break. Pevs ends up playing with Kovalchuk, and that got him through the threshold of feeling he could be a good offensive player."

Around the league

Robbie Earl, traded by the Leafs to Minnesota for Ryan Hamilton in January, had two goals yesterday in his second game since being called up by the Wild. As a Leaf he had one assist in nine games in 2007-08 ... Winger Fabian Brunnstrom, the favourite Swedish free agent last year, is now being dropped into trade talks by the Dallas Stars ... The Colorado Avalanche is 10 points better than its first 20 games of last season ... Just as Alex Ovechkin is ready to come back to the Washington Capitals, in time to feast on the Leafs this Saturday, Mike Knuble broke a finger on Friday against Minnesota and is out three to four weeks ... Those who saw Peter Forsberg play at a Four Nations tournament in Helsinki say his feet haven't caught up to his head and hands yet. Several teams remain interested in him, however ... The Vancouver Canucks have missed 109 man-games in injury and the season isn't yet a quarter completed ... Retired Avalanche captain Joe Sakic is going into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame ... Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings has gone 15 games without a goal.

The week ahead

Boston's Milan Lucic has targeted Thursday to come back from a broken finger, but coach Claude Julien predicts another week to 10 days ... Martin Brodeur gets three more chances to tie Terry Sawchuk's shutout record of 103, starting tonight in Philadelphia, but more likely Thursday in Nashville or Saturday in Dallas against two low-scoring teams ... The Chicago Blackhawks begin their dreaded "circus trip," two weeks on the road when the United Center is tied up with the big top. Last year, it accounted for their second-longest losing streak.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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