With his team out of the NHL playoffs, Alex Ovechkin hopes to lead Russia past Canada again for a third straight world championship title.
Ovechkin, who helped Russia to the 2008 crown but missed the 2009 tournament, became available for the worlds when his Washington Capitals lost in the first round of the NHL post-season.
Germany hopes to mark the start of the tournament Friday with a record crowd. The opening game between Germany and the United States will be at Schalke's soccer arena, and organizers expect more than 76,000 fans, which would surpass the 74,554 who saw a U.S. college game in 2001 at East Lansing, Mich.
The worlds mark Ovechkin's last chance this season to win a title. Last week, he and his top-seeded Capitals were bounced from the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens. And in February, Ovechkin and Russia were beaten by Canada in the Olympic quarter-finals — Ovechkin's second failed bid for an Olympic medal after fourth-place finish in 2006.
"The world championship is a tournament on another level," Ovechkin told Sovietsky Sport newspaper. "We're going to Germany to defend the title. We want to prove that the defeat in Vancouver to the Canadians was an accident. Well, not that accidental. But it does not mean that Canada will always be stronger than the Russians."
Ovechkin said Russia's revenge for losing to Canada at the Vancouver Olympics will come at the 2014 Sochi Games, not at the worlds.
With Ovechkin and Washington teammates Alexander Semin and Semyon Varlamov and New Jersey Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, Russia is considered the favorite for its 26th world title.
Canada lacks Olympians
The other top challenger will be Olympic gold-medallist Canada, which will be looking for its 25th world title. Canada lost in the world finals in 2008 and 2009.
Canada's general manager, Mark Messier, has just one player from the Vancouver squad in Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry. Forward Ryan Smith will represent Canada for the first time since the 2006 Olympics.
Canada coach Craig MacTavish said Russia was the team to beat.
"There are lots of reasons to be leery. But at the same time we've got lots of work to do before we get to the Russians — as they do," MacTavish said. "And, hopefully, we'll continue to grow and develop as a team to the point where we'll beat them."
The United States has not won the title since 1960, and has collected just three bronze medals (1962, 1996, 2004) since.
Scott Gordon, coach of the U.S. and the New York Islanders, has only one player from the team that lost in the Vancouver final, Jack Johnson, who will captain the side at his third worlds.
Other contenders will be Olympic bronze-medallist Finland, 2002 world champion and Vancouver fourth-place finisher Slovakia, Sweden and Germany.
Finland will be missing stars such as Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen, who have retired from national team competition, while Saku Koivu, Jere Lehtinen, Toni Lydman and Jarkko Ruutu all declined the invitation for Germany. Mikko Koivu and Tuomo Ruutu are out with injuries.
The 16-team annual tournament, spread through Cologne, Mannheim and Gelsenkirchen, runs to May 23 with four four-team groups in the first round. The top three from each group advance for additional round-robin play in two six-team groups.
The top four in each group advance to the quarter-finals to start the knockout stages which climax with the final on May 23 in Cologne.