ASIDE FROM battling Sidney Crosby for the Art Ross Trophy, Jake Voracek will have one more thing to play for this spring: a gold medal on home ice at the World Championships.
Once the Flyers wrap up their season next Saturday, Voracek and quite a few teammates will have a few weeks to prepare for the 16-team IIHF tournament in Prague and Ostrava, Czech Republic. The tournament runs May 1-17.
"Trust me, I'd rather be in a playoff run, battling for the Cup," Voracek said. "But there's an opportunity to play for my country, especially at home. I think it's going to be one of the top moments in my career. The World Championships at home is something special."
Voracek, 25, grew up in Kladno, about 35 minutes away from downtown Prague. This will be Voracek's fourth World Championships appearance for the Czechs; he also represented his country at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
In North America, the hockey world's focus is on the Stanley Cup. Overseas, the Worlds are viewed with almost as much reverence by participating nations - with rosters stocked by NHL teams without a ticket to the big dance. Sending players abroad is never normally a thought for the Flyers, who have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs 17 out of the last 19 years.
Voracek could be asked to shoulder much of the load for his country. Aside from Jaromir Jagr, who is also likely to miss the playoffs in Florida, the hosts will likely be without Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, Ondrej Pavelec, Ondrej Palat, Tomas Plekanec, Zbynek Michalek, Marek Zidlicky - all from their 2014 Olympic entry. Gudas, 24, was acquired by the Flyers at the trade deadline from Tampa Bay and has not yet begun skating from January knee surgery to repair torn cartilage.
Other Flyers expected to participate include Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (France), Michael Raffl (Austria), Mark Streit (Switzerland) and Oliver Lauridsen (Denmark).
Claude Giroux, Michael Del Zotto, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Steve Mason should all receive significant consideration for Team Canada. Schenn and Matt Read participated last year in Minsk, Belarus, after the Flyers' first-round elimination by the Rangers.
Mason leads all non-playoff, Canadian-born goaltenders in save percentage (.927) this season. He could share the net with Roberto Luongo, Jonathan Bernier or Mike Smith, depending on who is interested in playing.
With 28 goals, Wayne Simmonds would have been a shoo-in if his season were not derailed last Thursday when a point shot connected with his left leg. His expected recovery time is 4 weeks.
Hockey Canada has not yet revealed its management staff for next month's tournament. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant last season for the Canadians, serving alongside Calgary's Brad Treliving, under Los Angeles' Rob Blake.
"We've been chasing the playoffs since November. We sort of ran out of gas," Voracek said. "We've got six games to finish. We're out of it now. There's nothing you can do. You can finish strong, prepare for the Worlds, get some rest, and then here we go again."