World Championships Kick Off in Germany

GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - MAY 04: A general view of the Veltins Arena ahead of the IIHF World Championship on May 4, 2010 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The Veltins Arena, home to Bundesliga club Schalke 04, has increased it's capacity and will play host to the sport of Ice Hockey for the first time. The 2010 IIHF World Championships will run from May 7 to May 23. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The 2010 IIHF World Championships kick off in Germany today. First game will be Team USA against Germany in the preliminary round at 2pm ET. The opening game is to be played in the small city of Gelsenkirchen at the Veltins Arena, home of the German soccer club FC Schalke 04.  It is expected to set a world attendance record for a hockey game  at 76,152 in attendance. The WC's don't get that much coverage in the US, but in Europe they can be compared to that of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so we'll be doing our best at Raw Charge to keep you updated on the event. Consider this your primer.

The World Championships, or WC's are hosted this year in Germany and with the exception of the tournament opener in Gelsenkirchen, the games are played out in two cities: Cologne and Mannheim. This is the 74th IIHF World Championships and is the sixth time that Germany has hosted the tournament.

There are 16 teams participating in the tournament which are split up into 4 groups, they look much the same as the teams that participated in the Olympics, give or take a few. In the preliminaries, it's a round robin format where each team plays against the other teams in the group. Each group's top 3 teams will advance to the Qualification Round and the bottom team of each group plays a Relegation Round to determine which two teams will be relegated. The Qualification Round splits up the 12 teams that advanced into two groups, with each team playing three games each.

After the Qualification Round the four best teams will advance to the Quarter-Finals, then to the Semi-Finals and then to the medal games. The last game to be played will be the gold medal match on Sunday May 23rd in Cologne.

As Cassie pointed out, there are a few Lightning players representing their country at the WC's this year. Notable names include Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie for Team Canada, Victor Hedman for Sweden and Mike Lundin for USA.

The Russians have won the tournament for the last two years and look to make it a third. With their embarrassing exit from the Olympics, they will be looking to redeem themselves. They are bringing Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin, Alexander Frolov, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Fedorov to help them get their third straight victory.

Last year's tournament ended in heartbreak for Team Canada in a loss to Russia at the WC's in Switzerland. This year's Canadian squad, put together by Mark Messier and coached by Craig MacTavish looks to make it two gold medals this year in international competitions. They are young and exciting but don't have quite as much experience at the World's. In addition to Stamkos and Downie, they have Ryan Smyth, Rene Bourque, Corey Perry, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and John Tavares.  Corey Perry is the only player who had participated in the Olympics that will also play in the WC's. The Canadians have their first game against Italy on Saturday May 8th at 4:15 local time (broadcasted on TSN at 10:15 am ET, see TSN for their broadcast schedule)

Team USA has not won gold since 1959, but did win a bronze in 2004 in Prague and finished fourth in 2009. They are captained by Jack Johnson and will have Kyle Okposo, Keith Yandle, TJ Oshie and our own Mike Lundin. Like the Canadian squad, Team USA's roster is young. Universal Sports will air games in the US as well as air them online on a pay per view basis, see USA Hockey's website for the broadcast schedule/fees.

Team Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic are also strong teams in the tournament and look to challenge Russia for gold.

This year as part of an anti-doping campaign, the IIHF will have green pucks used during warm-ups that have the motto "Say No" written on them. It will used in 3 of the games played on May  7-9th, including the home opener.

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