What’s the one thing NHL players want after a long grinding season of playing hockey? More hockey, of course. The IIHF World Championship offers players who weren’t fortunate enough to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or were eliminated early, the opportunity to satisfy their thirst for more competition, while also representing their home country.
The Philadelphia Flyers have a handful of players representing the team at this year’s iteration of the World Championships, which began on May 10 and runs through May 26 in Slovakia. Eight players to be exact will be competing for five different countries at the tournament, as well as a couple of coaches.
At the conclusion of the tournament we’ll take a look at how each of these players fared, but for now let’s outline who will be taking the stage from the Flyers, and how they’ve performed so far.
Let’s start with the biggest fish first. New Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault will be the bench boss for the Canadians, and will be joined by goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh.
This will be Vigneault’s first time representing Canada as a head coach, although he also served as an assistant coach twice (1989, 1991), winning a gold medal in 1991. Vigneault will get his first close-up look at two of his new roster players.
Flyers’ center Sean Couturier is one of the veterans for Team Canada this year. Couturier is part of the leadership core for this chapter of the team, and will don an ‘A’ on his chest, he also figures to play a big role at 5-on-5 and on both special teams units.
Couturier has won a medal on two separate occasions while representing Canada’s big club (gold in 2015, silver in 2017). He also won a silver medal with the junior team at the 2011 World Junior Championship.
In three games so far Couturier has gotten off to a slow start with just one goal. Over the past year he’s played the best hockey of his career, so expect him to get on track quickly and help lead Canada on a deep run.
Carter Hart is used to the bright lights of the international stage, guiding Canada to silver and gold medals at the 2017 and 2018 World Junior Championships, respectively. Did I mention that he never lost a game in regulation or overtime across both of those tournaments, posting an 8-0-2 record? Yeah, don’t expect Hart to crumble under the pressure any time soon.
Unfortunately, thanks to seniority, Matt Murray figures to lead the way in net for the majority of the tournament. Vigneault will want to get an early look at Hart so he’ll get a few games here and there — he posted a 12 save shutout against Great Britain in his only game so far — but unless Murray falters in a big way, Hart will be patiently waiting for his time to shine.
Oskar Lindblom makes his first appearance at the World Championships, and will look to carve out a role for himself going forward for Team Sweden. Before joining the Flyers, Lindblom played in the SHL and thrived on the larger ice surface so there should be an immediate comfortability.
Lindblom represented Sweden at the 2015 and 2016 World Juniors, posting 15 points in 14 games. Head coach Rikard Groenborg surely hopes that Lindblom picks up where he left off on the international stage, as the Swedes have gold medal aspirations. So far so good on that front, Lindblom has scored goals in three straight games to begin the tournament.
Robert Hagg also makes his first World Championship appearance for Team Sweden. Like Lindblom, Hagg also made two prior international appearances at World Juniors (2013, 2014) earning a silver medal on both occasions.
Hagg will play bottom-pair minutes and will be a part of the penalty kill rotation. Despite blowouts against Norway and Italy, a 5-2 loss to the Czechs and a total of 17 Swedish goals, Hagg has been held off the scoresheet.
Jakub Voracek is the elder statesman of this crop of Flyers playing in the tournament, playing in his sixth Worlds. In 2017, he was awarded the captaincy for the Czechs, and will retain that role this year on a roster mostly void of NHL talent. If the Czechs make any noise in this tournament, it will be on the back of Voracek, whose posted four assists thus far in the Czechs first three games.
Radko Gudas will also serve a leadership role for the Czechs, donning an ‘A.’ As the most experienced defender for the Czechs, he will play heavy minutes on the back end and head the first penalty kill unit. Gudas has been held pointless but has provided strong defense, helping hold the Swedes to just two goals in the first game.
James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk is the lone representative from the Flyers playing for the United States. Even on a team stacked with offensive talent, the man they call “JVR” will be a fixture on the power play in his usual net-front role.
JVR is a grizzled vet on the international scene, playing in three World Juniors, the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey reboot, and one other World Championship appearance in 2011. After a tough loss to Slovakia in their opening game, the Americans have bounced back with two wins against France and a solid Finnish squad. JVR has one point (an assist) in those three games.
Michael Raffl is not only the only Flyers representative for Austria, but the only NHL rep as well. Despite his NHL track record, Raffl wasn’t given a letter to wear. Older brother Thomas Raffl will wear the ‘C’ for Austria instead, something I’m sure Thomas can chirp about at the next family gathering.
This will be Raffl’s sixth Worlds appearance, and although Austria is no threat to earn a medal, the extra playing time is always useful. In two Austrian losses — a 5-2 defeat versus Latvia and a 5-0 beating at the hands of the Russians — Raffl has scored one goal.
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World Championship Worth the Watch
Although it will never be as satisfying as watching Flyers players in meaningful Stanley Cup Playoff action, it’s still worth checking in on how they perform at these kinds of tournaments. With Flyers playing on teams with high hopes such as the USA, Canada, and Sweden, there will be no shortage of action to watch.
Even if the Flyers aren’t your main concern, there’s plenty of high-end hockey to marvel at, and even a few youngsters to keep an eye on such as Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko.Every game from the 2019 IIHF World Championship can be seen on the NHL Network.