Hockey Champs Approach Climax in Slovakia; Putin Reps Russia 2016

(ATR) Sweden will face either Russia or Finland in Sunday's final ... PM speaks on behalf of Russia's successful bid for 2016 worlds ...

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 13: IIHF Congress vote for the 2016 World Championship held at the 2011 IIHF World Championship. (Photo by Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images)
BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 13: IIHF Congress vote for the 2016 World Championship held at the 2011 IIHF World Championship. (Photo by Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images)

(ATR) The gold medal is on the line Sunday when the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship reaches the final round in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Sweden earned its spot in the title game with a 5-2 win over defending champs Czech Republic on Friday afternoon and will meet either Russia or Finland, who face off tonight at Orange Arena.

Russia earned its semifinal berth with a dramatic come-from-behind victory against the 2010 Olympic gold medalists, Canada. Ilya Kovalchuk, who plays for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, scored on a breakaway with just over eight minutes remaining to give Russia a 2-1 lead, one they would not relinquish.

The loss ended the Canadian hopes of achieving their first men’s world title since 2004 and kept alive Russia’s hope for a third title in the past four years.

Star Power in Slovakia

Although the tournament competes for publicity and top players against the NHL Playoffs, this year’s edition has benefitted from the appearance of superstars like Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Jaromir Jagr.

Ovechkin joined the Russian squad last weekend following the loss and first round elimination of his Washington Capitals.

39-year-old Jaromir Jagr led the Czech Republic to a perfect 7-0 start before Sunday's loss in the semis. The two-time Stanley Cup winner, who has played in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League the past two seasons, scored five goals and three assists in the two-week tourney.

To the disappointment of the home nation’s fans, Slovakia failed to get past the qualification round.

The United States, with an average age of just over 24, lost to the Czech Republic in a quarterfinal game on Wednesday, as Jagr scored a three-goal hat trick.

More from IIHF President Rene Fasel

After this week’s Tuesday Talk with Rene Fasel, Around the Rings got a bit more out of the IIHF president during a press conference in Slovakia.

"It’s a very special atmosphere," he said of the host country. "We actually have two home teams with the Czechs and Slovaks. I’ve been in Bratislava, but from what I read and heard things are going well here in Košice."

"It’s always interesting to be at the second venue when the home team is not here," he said regarding Slovakis being assigned to play in Bratislava. "This is a hockey place, they love the game here."

ATR asked Fasel what his thoughts were regarding staging an Olympic tournament in a non-traditional hockey country should PyeongChang win hosting rights to the 2018 Winter Games.

"The first time we went to Asia in Nagano 1998, it was a challenge with the travel and time difference," said Fasel. "On the other hand, Asia is a huge market with huge potential. It would be a big opportunity to promote our game there, but travel and TV is for sure a huge challenge."

"I am very positive, whether it’s Munich, Annecy or Korea. All three could organize the Games for hockey."

Fasel was also asked to give a percentage regarding the likelihood that NHL players will compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"I made a guess once and [NHL commissioner]Gary (Bettman) was not so happy," he said with a smile. "I think the players wouldlove to play, but then it willbe a situation between the NHL and NHLPA. We have a good chance, but I won’t give you a percentage. I want to keep Gary happy."

"The relationship with the NHL is good. Donald Fehr (Executive Director of the NHLPA) will come to Bratislava and also Bill Daly (NHL Chief Legal Officer) to speak to the congress. Hopefully, I will go to the Stanley Cup and also the NHL Awards in June," he said.

Joint World Championship in 2012 and 2013

On Thursday afternoon, a news conference was held at the Orange Arena to advise journalists about the next two IIHF World Championships.

The international tournament that has been held by the IIHF dating back to 1930 will take on a fresh new approach in both 2012 and 2013.

Finland and Sweden will co-host both championships, an IIHF first, with games in Helsinki and Stockholm, an IIHF first. A new competition format will also be on the table.

"Luckily we both have excellent venues, experienced organizations and a long history in hosting the IIHF Worlds," said organizing committee chairmanKalervo Kummola of Finland.

Christer Englund, the organizing committee chairman representing Sweden, advised that the two hostcities are 104 kilometers apart and 10 daily flights and numerous evening ferries across the Baltic Sea will ease travel between the venues.

"Maybe you don’t believe it, but cooperation between Swedish and Finland federations has been great," said Englund. "We are like brothers and want to offer a great tournament to both media and fans two times in a row."

The main venue and the arena for the semi-finals and medal games for the 2012 World Championship will be Helsinki’s Hartwell Arena, which has previously hosted NHL Opening Premier Games.

In 2013, Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe Arena will be the tournament’s main venue playing host to the medal contests.

Putin Reps Russia for 2016

On Friday afternoon, the IIHF rubberstamped St. Petersburg and Moscow as host cities of the 2016 men’s championship after rivals Denmark and Ukraine withdrew their bids.

Whether Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin’s appearance in Bratislava had anything to do with the sudden narrowing of the field remains unclear.

"Russia is eager to host this great tournament," he told the IIHF Congress in a speech supporting the bid.

Putin then joined Fasel for a press conference and is later expected to cheer on the Russian team in tonight’s semi-final.

Swedish Canada Rivalry

The final news conference in Kosice ended abruptly after Swedish journalist and former national team coach Leif Boork questioned the sportsmanship of Canadian captain Rick Nash following a slash against one of the Swedish players while addressing Team Canada head coach Ken Hitchcock.

After Boork continued to express his opinion about the play to Hitchcock, Canadian Press Chief André Brin reprimanded Boork, advising that the news conference is only for questions by journalists and not opinions. Boork persisted, continuing to express his feelings while trying to provoke Hitchcock about the play in question. Brin proceeded to abruptly end the news conference and Hitchcock walked away not answering any further questions abuptly concluding Košice’s involvement in the tournament.

Written by Brian Pinelli in Bratislava, Slovakia.