Plenty of subplots

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:23 PM ET

INNSBRUCK -- Vienna is where Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert and Strauss used to play. But for the next 16 days Brandner, Lakos and Pock, Trattnig and Vanek will try to make beautiful music together in the culture capital of the worlds.

Those are the names on the back of the sweaters of the highest profile players on the Austrian national team. Can Austria avoid the incredible humiliation of relegation as host city?

Will the team which has ended up in a pool with Russia, Slovakia and Belarus spend the second week of the IIHF World Hockey Championships (which open today) playing noon games against the other last- place teams in the relegation round?

WONDERFUL UPSETS

Or will there be one of those wonderful upsets which make them heroes in their homeland?

Hey, come on. Canada's chance to win three titles in a row isn't the only storyline at the 2005 IIHF World Hockey Championships.

There are plenty of potential plots beyond Canada's attempt to win three in a row for the first time since 1950-51-52.

None is bigger on this side of the ocean than the Czechs, the last nation to win three titles in a row (1996-97-98), who gassed the quarter-final crossover game against the U.S.A. last year as tournament hosts in Prague.

Their storyline is revenge.

The story for Sweden as this tournament begins is Bengt-Ake Gustafsson taking over the team he came to Vienna with to win gold 18 years ago.

The Swedes, who lost to Belarus at the Salt Lake Olympics, disappointed as host nation for the championships in 2002 and then lost to Canada in the final in each of the last two years, and were defeated 6-1 by the Czechs to miss the medals at the World Cup.

Slovakia, just over the border from Austria, won the world title in 2002 with their high-end talent. But as always, the storyline with the boys from Bratislava and vicinity is if they'll get any goaltending.

With young superstars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin and friends, there's an expectation the Russians are about to return to the top of international hockey again. But they have been incredible underachievers the last decade, with one silver medal to go with a string of fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-place finishes, not to mention finishing 11th as the host nation in 2000 and 10th last year.

The Soviet Union didn't lose a single game at either of the Winter Olympics held here. But they'll spend the tournament in Vienna.

For Finland, finalists at the World Cup of Hockey, and the Americans, bronze-medal winners last year, this tournament is about proving those results for real.

Can Glen Hanlon bring Belarus back to the level which saw them finish fourth at the Salt Lake Olympics? Whether host Austria can avoid relegation at home is a subplot around the rest of the hockey world.

It's the fifth occasion Austria has played host to the hockey Worlds. With the Vienna rink seating 9,271 and the Innsbruck arena seating 7,140, there is no danger of equalling last year's tournament record attendance of 526,172 in Prague.

In fact, the two centres will be hard-pressed to equal the 281,000-plus total of the recent Edmonton Brier.

BATTLE OVER AMATEURISM

One of those occasions of the championships in this nation marked the return of Canada to the event after staying away in a battle over amateurism.

After a seven-year absence, which also included two Olympics, Canada returned to the tournament in Vienna in 1977 and gave the world one of the greatest goon shows of all time.

With Wilf Paiement the ultimate ugly Canadian, Canada racked up a record for penalty minutes which still stands, and lost 11-1 and 8-1 to the Soviet Union despite having Phil and Tony Esposito, Rod Gilbert, Ron Ellis, Carol Vadnais, Dallas Smith, Jean Pronovost and Pierre Larouche in the lineup.

The Canadians went home in shame and their conduct became an issue on Parliament Hill.

They still remember that in Vienna. Maybe it's best that Team Canada spends most of the tournament here.


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