The World Cup of Hockey players are composed of Grade A premium NHL talents with no fillers. When the World Cup starts Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) with the U.S. facing Team Europe. The field will be filled up of more competitive teams from bottom-to-top compared to the last 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
The NHL and the NHL Players Association agreed on an eight-team format that includes the primary hockey countries of Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, plus a team made up of the NHL’s best 23-and-under North American players and a European All-Star team.
Team Europe has the best NHLers from countries but not already in tournament. Team Europe has one of the best players from Los Angeles Kings among them are center Anze Kopitar (Slovenia), Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (Slovakia) and Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (Switzerland).
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“It’s such a condensed tournament,” USA coach John Tortorella said. “You really are seeing the best players.”
The Americans are playing in a pool with Canada, Czech Republic and Europe, and will play each team once in the preliminary round. The top two teams advance to the semifinal to play the top two teams in the other division that will include Sweden, Russia, Finland and the North American 23-and-under team.
The finalists will meet in a best-of-three series starting on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
Here are five other reasons why the World Cup of Hockey is worth watching:
Young stars are flying: When the 23-and-under concept was announced, it wasn’t well received. But now there’s considerable intrigue about a roster that includes Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers), Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers). They could be a factor in the title chase. Everyone in hockey is talking about how fast they look. “They look like they can turn and burn,” said Canada coach Mike Babcock.
Canada vs. USA: Canada is favored to win the tournament, but the games are intense and competitive any time these countries meet. The Canadians defeated U.S. in the gold medal game at the 2002 and 2010 Olympic Games. For added inspiration, the American management team sent every American player a video of the Americans beating the Canadians in the deciding game at the 1996 World Cup. Canada and U.S. will meet Tuesday, Sept. 20.
ESPN is back: All of the preliminary games, semifinals and final will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2. Will we get a different look and feel than we get from NBC? It makes you wonder if we might see ESPN return to broadcasting NHL games.
Canadian pride: Playing a hockey tournament in Canada is far different than playing in any other country. The World Cup will play like a World Series in Toronto, maybe even bigger than a World Series because hockey is the country’s national sport. Toronto is the center of hockey universe, or at least the folks in Toronto believe it is. Canadian players enter the tournament knowing that winning is the only acceptable option. “Most of us have represented Canada before and we understand that as a group,” Canada center Sidney Crosby said.
Beware of the Russians: The Russians have a history of self-destructing in international tournaments. The team’s defense doesn’t seem strong enough for this event. But with Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov and Vladmir Tarasenko, the Russians could average five goals per game.
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