What in the World Cup of Hockey?

Unveiling of the Countdown Clock for World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Centre.
Courtesy of Keith Beaty. Getty Images.

 

International hockey is a spectacle within itself. During the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic games, hockey on average, pulled 24.4 million viewers during prime time games according to newsday.com.

In fact representing your home country is heralded as sports ultimate honor. However, the NHL has threatened to restrict league players to be loaned for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea. To give their argument traction, league commissioner Gary Bettman played his hand, and it’s a loaded one…

Hockey fans rejoice. You won’t have to wait until next October for the puck to drop! For the first time since 2004, the World Cup of Hockey has made its triumphant return. Dan Rosen published an article on NHL.com with the following quote. “We’ve been talking about this for years now” remarked Henrik Lundqvist. “Having a break for 12 years, it’s important to let people know that it’s back and you need to set the tone by putting on a good product here”.

Officially, the tournament will commence on September 17tand conclude on October 1st. All of the games will be held in the same arena, The Air Canada Centre in Toronto, unlike in the Olympics which showcases multiple arenas.

While the tournament itself will last slightly over two weeks, over 100 of the NHL’s best talents will fight for the crown. In total, 8 teams will be divided into two pools, pool A and B.

Team Canada, the Czech Republic, team Europe, and Team USA make up pool A.  While Finland, Team North America, Russia and Sweden comprise pool B.

September 21st is without a doubt the date circled on everyone’s calendar. Boarder battles between Finland and Sweden at 3pm; then in prime time its team USA taking on Canada. Regardless of the game, that is shaping up to be the fiercest day of the tournament. Aside from the medal rounds, of course.

There were some notable snubs and additions to this instalment of international play, unlike its precursor, the Sochi games. For instance, Team USA scratched speedster Phil Kessel off the list, and for good reasoning as well. Statistically, Kessel has produced an undesirable season.

As for the rest of his previous squad, Team USA is built on a game structured around grit and determination. It will be led offensively by Patrick Kane and T.J Oshie, and back dropped by Ryan Suter, Dustin Byfuglien  and the magical Johnathan Quick. Don’t expect them to lead the tournament in goals, but they are certainly a load to handle. Especially when you consider their loss to Finland in the bronze medal game in 2014.

Team Canada, well they’re team Canada. The mantra is as expected, gold medal or nothing at all. One gigantic question mark remains and that is Carey Price and his progression on his injury, which has sidelined him for nearly an entire season. If Price isn’t ready to go, no doubt the runner up in net will be the seasoned Corey Crawford.

Offensively Canada is good enough to give you nightmares. Crosby, Seguin, Stamkos, and Carter highlight their goal scoring pop, while Bergeron, Benn, Getzlaf, Toews, and Tavares offer not only depth down the middle, but also impeccable defense in all three zones of the rink. On the blue line Doughty, Keith, and Weber are cable of blasting 100 mile an hour bullets with the velocity to crack the glass.

Want to win gold? You’ll have to beat Canada.

Russia is the most top heavy team in the tournament by far. Absolutely explosive offensively but their blue line is suspect to say the least. Goaltending sank the ship on their medal hopes in 2014 and I expect history to repeat itself here. However, it’s not crazy to believe the likes of Ovechkin, Malkin, Tarasenko, and Kuznetsov can keep Russia above water. Lofty goal if you ask me, considering the Red Army dominated hockey for nearly 40 years. Today’s product is a far cry from those years.

Finland and the Czech Republic are built almost exclusively identical. A motley crew of unproven youth and relatively weak depth outside of their top lines. Finland’s bright spot is without a doubt Tuukka Rask, and they will go as far as he is willing to push. The Czech’s use to be a hockey powerhouse but haven’t tasted gold since Dominik Hasek, and Petr Mrazek isn’t even close.

Don’t get me wrong, both teams will play their hearts out and will most likely play spoiler in one effect or the other. But keep your expectations in the realm of realism.

Sweden will be in the gold medal game for one reason and one reason only.

King Henrik.

No, I’m totally serious.

Similarly to Canada, Sweden has impeccable talent on the backend. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, Nik Kronwall and Nik Hjalmarsson.

Speed kills as the old saying goes, and Sweden goes fast. Their speedsters Nicklas Backstrom, Filip Forsberg, Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Steen just to name a few. Odds are Sweden will knife through the tournament to the medal round and from there Henrik will do his thing.

Team North America and Europe are the most interesting additions to international play.  Europe is comprised of NHL’ers whose country’s aren’t represented. Had this been the 2010 Olympics their squad would have turned heads, however, they will probably be playing spoiler going into the medal round.

Team North America is made up of players from the US and Canada whom are under 23 years of age. So, yeah there’s a ton of talent.

McDavid, Gaudreau, Monahan, Eichel, Ekblad and Seth Jones highlight their big six. If this team can find some chemistry they can compete with the biggest and best the tournament will have to offer. It all comes down to John Gibson and his ability to muster up some brilliance. Trust me, this is not a team to be taken lightly.

Without a doubt Team Canada will have a slight advantage playing in front of their home crowd. But Toronto is a safe home base for this tournament which has taken a 12 year hiatus. Are we witnessing the power that will kick the Olympics off its mantle? Or is this a classic case of an unstoppable force meeting and immoveable object?

We’ll have to wait for 2018.

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