The best ever?

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:20 PM ET

INNSBRUCK -- In the 14th century, the Habsburgs came to capture this town. Yesterday the Habscheids came to try to do the same.

Marc Habscheid's Team Canada arrived in Innsbruck - literally "the bridge over the Inn'' which lies at the junction of the Inn Valley and the Sill Gap to provide one of the best picture postcard scenes in all of Europe.

There's gold to be mined in the Tyrol, gold which will be more golden than any medal in the history of the IIHF World Hockey Championships.

For the next two weeks, Team Canada will reside in the home of the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Winter Games. They'll likely play seven games here to get to the medal round in Vienna to go for a third consecutive gold medal, one which will be more treasured than all the others before.

This is the year of the NHL lockout. There are no Stanley Cup playoffs. For the first time in the history of the world championships the entire hockey world - including the homeland of hockey - will be focused on the tournament like never before.

That alone will make this the first real 24-karat gold medal ever to be hung around the necks of whichever team manages to hear their national anthem at the end.

THIS ONE COUNTS

This one counts, even in Canada where the world championships have always been secondary to the big show at home.

"Being over here will make our players insulated from it a little bit. But they know. There are no Stanley Cup playoffs back home. The world championships have never had this stage before,'' said Habscheid.

"It's definitely going to be greater,'' said national netminder Martin Brodeur.

"It's a bigger tournament this year. The quality of play will show it. Lots of teams had a better chance to have their best players available.''

Ryan Smyth, Captain Canada or "The Gold Smyth'' as he might become known if he becomes the first Canadian player to win an Olympic gold, World Cup gold and three straight world championship golds, says it's going to be special.

"It's unique,'' says the native of Banff. "I think it's going to be great. A lot more people will be watching and everything will be magnified because of the situation.

"A lot of people who don't always pay total attention to what's going on at the world championships will get an idea of the great hockey and the great event this has become, and a lot of people will see how much we care about our country and our game.''

Kris Draper, who played two years with Canada's national team and first came to the tournament in 1989 and 1990 and has played in three tournaments since, says this years gold will be more golden for whoever wins it.

"Look around at the teams. Look at the lineups. Look at a guy like Marty Brodeur. He's only been able to play in this tournament once before.

'MORE DIFFICULT TO WIN'

"This year every country had a chance to get their best players. There are a lot of guys in this tournament this year who haven't had many chances to play in it before. It'll definitely make it more difficult to win.

"This is going to be a pretty special tournament. To win it will make a pretty special statement.

"Even for the players who have played in this tournament more than a few times are going to be better this year.

"None of the teams had to wait and watch who would be eligible after the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And the guys who came over here on other years aren't going to be exhausted after an 82-game season with all the travel and a tough playoff series.

"No matter whether you played over here this year or stayed home and didn't play, everybody is going to be much more fresh physically and mentally this year.

"Everybody can't wait to play this time.

"Of all the tournaments, this one is going to be unique.

"It's going to be the best world championships there's ever been.''


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