News | 5/7/2013 2:59:32 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

2013 IIHF World Championship

Eleven Rochester Americans alumni from six different countries are currently in the hunt for gold at the 77th annual 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. The premier international event kicked off on Friday, May 3 as Slovakia opened the competition with a 6-2 rout over France. The three-week tournament will conclude with the gold-medal game on Sunday, May 19.

The Austrian national team boasts one of the most distinguished and prolific forwards in the tournament in forward Thomas Vanek, who returns to IIHF competition for the first time since 2008 when he guided Austria to a gold medal in the Division I World Championship. Vanek joins the Austrians after completing his eighth season with the Buffalo Sabres in 2012-13, leading the team in all offensive categories in goals (20), assists (21) and points (41) in just 38 games with Buffalo this season. Originally a first-round selection of the Sabres in 2003, Vanek made his pro debut with the Amerks during a record-setting 2004-05 campaign, his only season in Rochester prior to becoming a permanent fixture in the National Hockey League. As a rookie, Vanek led the Amerks with 42 goals, including a team-best 25 on the power-play, and finished second in scoring with 68 points in 74 American Hockey League contests. In addition to leading Rochester to an AHL-best 51-19-6-4 record (112 points) and a berth in the 2005 Calder Cup Playoffs, Vanek would set the single-season franchise records for most goals (42) and power-play goals (25) scored by a rookie, while being named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team.

Team Canada’s roster sees the reunion of head coach Lindy Ruff and defenseman Brian Campbell, who played eight seasons (1999-2008) in Buffalo under Ruff during his tenure with the Sabres. The 2013 event marks Campbell’s first-ever senior appearance for the Canadians in international competition following a brief stint with the Team Canada during the 1999 World Junior Championship, where he was named a First-Team All-Star for the tournament. Campbell is scoreless in two games with Canada, but ranks second among team defenseman with 42:44 of ice time. “Soupy” played parts of three seasons with the Amerks between 1999-02 and registered 95 points on 11 goals and 84 assists in 177 career games in Rochester. He currently ranks 26th in scoring among all-time defensemen. He also recorded four assists in 27 postseason appearances with the Amerks and guided the club to the 1999 Calder Cup Playoffs, dressing in all 21 games.

Ruff takes aim at his third medal in five years at the helm of the Canadian national team, having previously won silver as head coach at the 2009 IIHF World Championship before taking home gold as an assistant to Mike Babcock at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The Canadians, who haven’t advance to the medal round in the tournament since 2009, are in pursuit of their 25th gold medal and first since 2007. Ruff, whose 14-year professional career included a stop in Rochester, played 62 games for the Amerks in 1991-92, his only season in the Flower City. He finished the campaign ranked third among Amerks defensemen in scoring with 34 points (10+24) and added four assists in 13 playoff games. During the 2012-13 NHL season, Ruff was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, ending a 16-year run behind the Buffalo bench that saw Ruff become the all-time winningest coach in franchise history and the NHL’s longest active-serving coach with the same team. Ruff amassed a 571-516-78 record over his 1,165-game tenure with Buffalo.

A native of Pelhrimov, Czech Republic, forward Jiri Novotny is in his sixth stint with the Czech national team, having been part of the IIHF World Championships in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and again in 2012. After missing the event in 2009, Novotny returned to the event in 2010 and guided the Czechs to their first gold medal since 2005. Novotny would contribute six points (1+5) in nine games, good enough for second most on the team, before adding bronze medals at both the 2011 and 2012 tournaments to collect medals in three straight events for the first time in his international career. After four consecutive seasons (2002-06) with the Amerks, Novotny, now captain of the Czech national team, left Rochester with 105 points (25+80) in 218 career games. In 2005-06, he finished as the team’s top point-getter with 54 points, collecting career-highs along the way in every offensive category in goals (17), assists (37), points (54) and games played (66) en route to being named the Amerks’ scoring champion.

New to the international scene for the Czechs is goaltender Alexander Salak, who returned to the European professional leagues prior to the start of the 2012-13 season following a two-year stint in North America. In 2009-10 with the Amerks, Salak, signed as a free agent by the Florida Panthers, posted a 29-14-0 record to go along with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 48 regular-season appearances.

Latvia, one of four countries participating in the tournament to host multiple Amerks alumni, is making its 21st consecutive appearance in the annual event. Led by second-year head coach Ted Nolan, the Latvians come into the competition in search of their nation’s first-ever medal after a 10th-place finish at last year’s games. Latvia has also never finished better than seventh in the standings, where it placed three times over the last 16 years, including the 2009 event most recently. In his second year at the helm of the Latvian national team, Nolan spent the two seasons (2009-11) in Rochester as the Amerks’ Vice President of Player Operations, a position he held until the summer of 2011 when he returned to the coaching scene, replacing longtime bench boss Olegs Znaroks. It would be Nolan’s second stint in Rochester, however, as the Flower City was home to the former NHL Coach of the Year during the 1984-85 campaign, when he captained the Amerks to a third-place finish in the American Hockey League (40-27-13, 93 points) and a berth in the 1985 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Latvian captain Janis Sprukts was a member of the Amerks for two seasons (2006-07, 2008-09) while jumping back and forth between North America and Europe. Sprukts posted his best season of professional hockey in his first stint with Rochester as he captured career-highs in goals (18), assists (41) and points (59) to finish second on the team in scoring. He also finished the 2006-07 campaign second in postseason scoring with four points (1+3) and was the recipient of the team’s Unsung Hero and Most Valuable Player Award. The 2013 competition marks Sprukts’ eighth trip to the World Championship, the most among any other Latvian player to participate in the event.

The Latvian offense was bolstered with the addition of rookie forward Zemgus Girgensons, who joined his countrymen a few days following Rochester’s elimination from the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs. A first-round selection of the Sabres in 2012, the Riga, Latvia, native recently completed his rookie campaign with the Amerks, scoring six goals and adding 11 assists for 17 points in 61 regular-season outings. Girgensons also led Rochester in scoring in the postseason, scoring a team-high three goals, including a pair in his professional playoff debut in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Marlies.

Defenseman Andrej Sekera and the Slovakians snapped a nine-year drought of failing to qualify for the medal round after a silver medal finish at last year’s event. The Slovaks are looking for their first gold medal since 2002, and another medal at this year’s tournament would give the nation hardware in back-to-back years for the first time in a decade. Sekera, a resident of Bojnice, Slovakia, was taken by the Sabres in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the same class that featured Russian phenoms Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin claimed first and second overall by the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. Sekera, who made his professional debut with the Amerks during the 2006-07 season, finished his AHL career scoring 36 points (5+31) in 94 appearances. After the 2007-08 season, Sekera earned a full-time spot in the defensive corps of the Buffalo Sabres, where he has posted 92 points (17+75) and 102 penalty minutes in 339 career NHL games.

Defenseman Henrik Tallinder and goaltender Jacob Markstrom round out the list of Amerks Alumni for Team Sweden, which has claimed four medals over the last seven years, including gold at the 2006 event. The Swedes enter the 2013 tournament coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish at last year’s event, marking just the fifth time in the last 16 years Sweden was sent home empty-handed. Patrolling the blueline for the Swedes is veteran defenseman Tallinder, who also represented Sweden at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A second-round selection by the Sabres in 1997, Tallinder played the 2001-02 season in Rochester, where he notched 20 points (6+14) and 26 penalty minutes in 73 games with Amerks in his only season in the AHL. Since then, Tallinder has enjoyed a 13-year stay in the NHL with Buffalo and New Jersey, totaling 134 points (26+108) in 614 combined regular-season appearances.

Markstrom spent the 2010-11 season manning the pipes in Rochester, where he boasted a 16-20-1 record with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in 37 games. A native of Gavle, Sweden and a second-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2008, the highly touted Markstrom remains among the top Panther prospects, and since making his North American debut in 2010, has appeared in 31 NHL games with Florida, including 23 this season.