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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co. , Published December 26 2012

Schlossman: World Juniors arrive at just the right time

Grand Forks - Hockey fans won’t miss the NHL during the next two weeks.

That’s because it’s World Junior Championship time. The tournament started Wednesday, and those in this region know first-hand how marvelous that tournament can be when the NHL is wasting its time arguing about money.

The last time there was an NHL lockout, it produced the greatest World Junior Championship ever – and it happened in Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, Minn.

Several players that normally would have been in the NHL suited up for their native countries instead to give the tournament some eye-popping rosters.

Grand Forks was the birthplace of the Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby rivalry.

The first time that the No. 1 overall picks played against each other was on the Ralph Engelstad Arena ice on the evening of January 4, 2005. Crosby and his Canadian squad prevailed, beating Ovechkin and the Russians 6-1 to win the gold medal.

Crosby, of course, didn’t do it alone.

He had some teammates whose names might ring a bell, like 2011 NHL MVP Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd, former Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards and NHL standouts Jeff Carter and Braydon Coburn.

Ovechkin also had some teammates of note: reigning NHL MVP and 2009 Stanley Cup playoff MVP Evgeni Malkin and standout Alexander Radulov.

Five of the last six NHL MVPs have come from the Grand Forks/TRF World Juniors.

Other NHL standouts who played in the 2005 event included USA’s Ryan Suter (Minnesota), Phil Kessel (Toronto), Cory Schneider (Vancouver), the Czech Republic’s David Krejci (Boston), Belarus’ Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn (Nashville), Finland’s Tuukka Rask (Boston) and Lauri Korpikoski (Phoenix), Slovakia’s Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis) and Andrej Meszaros (Philadelphia) and Sweden’s Loui Eriksson (Dallas) and Anton Stralman (New York Rangers).

It’s unlikely that the 2005 tournament will ever be repeated, but this winter’s event could come close.

There will be three No. 1 overall picks on the ice in Ufa, Russia. Edmonton Oilers forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Canada) and Nail Yakupov (Russia) wouldn’t be playing if not for the lockout.

Neither would Nugent-Hopkins’ linemates, Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers.

We also may get a chance to see USA’s Seth Jones and Canada’s Nathan McKinnon – the two players battling to go No. 1 overall in the next NHL draft – go head-to-head at some point in the tournament.

And just like in 2005, UND fans will get to see one of its own playing on the big stage. It was Drew Stafford then and Rocco Grimaldi now.

Stafford led the Americans in scoring during the 2005 event and Grimaldi, playing on the team’s top line, may have a shot at doing the same in this stacked event.

So even though there’s no NHL, sit back and enjoy this world class event. The players are playing for free; their only reward is representing their country.

Expect Canada to win gold. Expect the U.S. to fight for a medal. And expect to see a bunch of these players starring in the NHL for years to come.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald