As far as collective competition goes, the toughest cluster of countries at the 2007 World Women's Hockey Championships will be the Group C threesome.
Sweden and Finland, arch Scandinavian enemies who have long been considered the front-runners for the title of 'third-best country in women's hockey' (behind Canada and the United States), head the group and will be joined by Russia, which comes into action as the sixth-seed in the nine-team tournament.
Under the radar, that's how the Russians are looking at it as they open up play against Sweden at MTS Centre today (4 p.m.).
"We had really nice practices once a day and workouts," said 26-year-old defenceman Kristina Petrovskaya after her team skated at the downtown rink yesterday. "I guess we're ready to go."
The Russians will face a Swedish club that might be ripe for an upset this week. The club, which won a silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, arrives in Winnipeg on the heels or two troubling exhibition losses to the U.S. last week. The Americans handled the Swedes 7-1 and 5-0, casting some doubt over their widely-accepted strength in the crease.
Those results didn't change Petrovskaya's scouting report. She still considers the Swedish duo of Kim Martin and Sara Grahn a force.
"They have really good goaltending," she said. "I guess they're going to pressure us. We'll try to do our best and try to win, of course. We played them in Europe two months ago and we tied them 2-2, so we had a really good game against them."
"We're ready to go, that why we came here," Russian assistant coach Sergey Goloshumov said through the interpretative skills of Petrovskaya. The coach wouldn't comment on how the Russians would fare against Sweden and Finland or what their goal was for the week-long event, but did show some optimism about his team.
"We don't know (where we'll finish), but as high as possible, said Goloshumov. "We can't tell you guys yet.."
The coach continues his thought, prompting a chuckle from translator Petrovskaya.
"Dreams maybe come true."