With Canada, Russia and the United States in the tournament, co-hosts France and Germany are going to need plenty of home ice advantage to spring an upset at the hockey world championships.
The worlds start Friday in Cologne, with Germany taking on the United States in Group A. The Group B matches will be played in Paris, with the semifinals and final back in Cologne.
Russia, which won the last of its record 27 titles in 2014, is also in Group A, along with Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia, Denmark and Italy. France is joined by Canada, Finland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Belarus, Norway and Slovenia in Group B. The Canadians play the Czechs on Friday.
The top four teams from each group advance to the second round, with the first-place team in each group playing the team in fourth in the other.
“I’m not afraid at all. What should I be afraid of?” Germany forward Felix Schuetz said. “If we lose I won’t go to jail. I’ll still have my wife and my child.”
Germany, which last hosted the tournament seven years ago, will be hoping some home support can help it reach at least the semifinals, just like it did in 2010.
But after facing the Americans, Germany will take on Sweden and Russia.
“Realistically, we could be without any points after three games,” German hockey federation president Franz Reindl said.
While captain Marcel Goc is injured and forward Leon Draisaitl is still tied up with the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL playoffs, Germany will have goaltender Thomas Greiss and New York Islanders teammate Dennis Seidenberg, with Arizona Coyotes winger Tobias Rieder and German league top-scorer Patrick Reimer of the Nuremberg Ice Tigers up front.
“It will be difficult enough,” Seidenberg said. “A lot can happen in a tournament. You can be lucky in a game or simply play better. Everything is possible.”
Hockey in neighboring France has been growing in recent years and the national team has performed well under long-time coach Dave Henderson, who is from Winnipeg.
Hopes will rest on defenseman Yohann Auvitu of the Albany Devils, Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of the Philadelphia Flyers. Roussel was named a tournament all-star in France’s 2014 quarterfinal run.
But neither France nor Germany can count on the caliber of 18 NHL players that Canada named in its initial list as it seeks its third straight title.
“Between them, these players have made 17 appearances at this very event, including nine players who’ve come away as gold medalists for Canada,” Canada general manager Ron Hextall said, “and they can play a big role in helping set the tone for this team.”