Pulling for Teams Europe & North America at 2016 World Cup of Hockey
I’m taking a cynical approach to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, aka “The NHL’s Attempt to Replace Winter Olympics Men’s Hockey as a Meaningful International Hockey Tournament”. I’m just not feeling excited for this contest.
Maybe it’s because it isn’t the Winter Olympics, where the players are in mid-season form and participating in an event that means so much to them.
Perhaps it’s because the last World Cup of Hockey, staged in September 2004 against the looming backdrop of a season-killing labor dispute between the NHL and NHLPA, lacked the emotion of its 1996 predecessor.
Maybe it’s because, since the fall of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, these September tournaments no longer resonate with hockey fans as they once did.
Perhaps it’s all of these reasons.
To be honest, if I wasn’t my job to provide some coverage of the World Cup of Hockey, I wouldn’t watch it.
As a sports fan, I’m more interested in the baseball playoff races at this time of year. As a hockey fan, the storylines coming out of NHL training camps are more compelling than a meaningless international hockey competition.
But I don’t have a choice, so I’m looking for something to get me excited about the World Cup of Hockey.
Expect plenty of hype over whether Canada can maintain its dominant Winter Olympic and World Championship form, if the United States can achieve the success of its predecessor at the inaugural World Cup 20 years ago, if Russia’s pros can overcome its recent disappointment in international play, and if Sweden, Finland or the Czech Republic can finally win an NHL-backed, North American-based tournament.
More interesting to me, however, is the possibility of Team Europe or Team North America surprising the favorites and winning the World Cup.
The European squad is composed of players from nations deemed to be lacking significant depth in talent to ice competitive clubs. The North American roster, meanwhile, is a roster
of players who didn’t make the final cut for the Canadian and American squads of Canadian and American players 23-and-younger deemed “ineligible” to play for Canada or the United States, seemingly for no other reason than to ensure an eight-team competition.
Team Europe has a decent-looking squad. It’s largely a veteran-laden bunch with many of them – Zdeno Chara, Mark Streit, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Thomas Vanek – past their prime.
Still, they’ve got a goalie in Frederik Andersen capable of stealing some games. Roman Josi and the always-underrated Andrej Sekera patrol the blueline. All-world center Anze Kopitar, two-way specialist Frans Nielsen, speedsters Mats Zuccarello and Mikkel Boedker and young forwards Leon Draisaitl, Nino Niederreiter and Tomas Tatar can generate offensive havoc.
Team North America is a younger, deeper squad. John Gibson and Matt Murray are the goaltenders. The blueline includes Aaron Ekblad, Shayne Gostisbehere, Seth Jones, Colton Parayko, Morgan Rielly and Jacob Trouba.
At forward, the depth is formidable. In Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Monahan, Brandon Saad, Mark Scheifele, Dylan Larkin, Jonathan Drouin and Auston Matthews, they’ve got a strong mix of speed and skill. Many of them also have previous international tournament experience.
Team Europe is the true underdog of this tournament. If some of the older players on their roster can rise to the occasion, they could pull off an upset or two. They have the experience and leadership to make it happen.
The North America roster, meanwhile, has sufficient talent to skate with the big boys. It’s a hungry group composed of the next generation of NHL stars determined to show up their older opponents.
So, I’ll be pulling for both of those clubs. Having a couple of wild card teams with the potential to upset the status quo is just what this tournament needs.
And if Team Europe or Team North America wins the tournament, I’m looking forward to the awkwardness of deciding which anthem gets played and which flags the players wrap themselves in for the big team photo posing with the kitschy table lamp called the “World Cup of Hockey”.