Article written by Daniel Maher (Rock the Barn)
Hockey fans are passionate about their teams, and they will cheer all out for their favorite team just to see them meet their end goal, to raise the Cup. And for the first time since 2004, a very different group of hockey fans come together to watch their favorite team raise a very different trophy. That’s right. It is back. Starting tomorrow hockey fans rejoice a little earlier than usual to watch the greatest hockey stars from Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, the rest of Europe and the 23 and under team North America compete for a shot at winning for their country. In the World Cup of Hockey.
Each team has 23 players; 20 skaters and three goalies. The normal NHL rules will be in play, but for creating the roster there were a lot of age groups they had to put people in. For Teams Canada and USA a player must be 24 and older by no date later than October 1, 2016. Team Europe consists of pan-European players whose births places are not Finland, Russia, Sweden or Czech Republic. This consists of Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland just to name a few. Management was needed to select the rosters for Team Europe and Team North America. The team North America management is Edmonton Oilers President/GM Peter Chiarelli and Chicago Blackhawks Vice President/GM Stan Bowman. The management for team Team Europe is German Ice Hockey Federation President Franz Reindl and former Slovakia team captain Miroslav Satan. Great names.
That’s just some tournament bookkeeping. The biggest question on everyone’s mind right now is who will win the tournament. Every team has the best players they can get, giving each team an advantage in their own way. The team that I rule out of the tournament is the Czech Republic. Yea, sure, the team is good, but they don’t have to skill level and firepower to compete with Team Canada. Czech Republic’s goaltending is fine with Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth, but the question is whether they will be able to generate offense at high level. They only have maybe three players that can generate a good amount of scoring; Ales Hemsky, Tomas Plekanec, and Michael Frolik. I can’t see them making it very far, so I say the Czech Republic will not win. The rest of the tournament should be evenly matched. The American team has made a few moves which leads some to think they won’t be as good as in past Olympics, but one would be crazy to think that the Americans wouldn’t at least be in the final four. Russia, Sweden and Finland all have extraordinarily talented lineups which should produce matchups hockey fans can only fantasize about. Team Europe, as stated above, features a mix of pan-European players who aren’t Czech, Russian, Swedish or Finnish. There are plenty of capable skaters on this team, but when comparing the overall lineup to the other teams in the field, on paper this team just isn’t as good. Team North America is where things get exciting. The way things are structured, this team is all young guns. If you would like to see the next generation of hockey, watch this squad play. With everyone being under age 24, the matchups presented are almost somewhat men vs. boys-esque. Don’t get me wrong though, this team could no doubt make a deep run. The brightest players west of the Atlantic under the age of 24, the talent on this team is mind-boggling featuring the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gosthisbehere, Dylan Larkin, Nathan MacKinnon, the list goes on. Whether this team goes out early or has a great tournament, it is must-watch television. Undoubtedly. It will be especially interesting as these “kids” go against some of their fellow countrymen as their meetings will serve as a metaphorical old-versus-new, past and present-versus-future matchup.
The saying good defense leads to great offense is exactly what Canada has. They have had the best team in the Olympics for a while and I believe that Team Canada will win the World Cup of Hockey. Not only has Team Canada been one of the best teams for world tournaments, but they top to bottom have the best team. Let’s start with the goaltenders. They have two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford, last year’s Vezina winner and the man who tied Martin Brodeur for most wins in a single season, Braden Holtby, and Carey Price, perceived best netminder in the world who started off last season strong until he got hurt. Those three guys right there can carry a team to victory. Last year Crawford posted a save percentage of .924, Holtby one of .922, and the games that Price did play his save percentage was at .932. These are some of the top save percentages in the NHL and great goaltending can bring a team a long way. Look at Martin Jones, who had an incredible playoffs for the San Jose Sharks, leading his team all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Canadians also boast some of the best defenders including Brent Burns, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, and Jay Bouwmeester. And the defense is not handcuffed just to defense. Brent Burns last season had 27 goals and 75 points, and Drew Doughty scored 16 goals and 51 points. This gives team Canada many options on defense and offense. Speaking of Canada’s offense, they can’t go wrong at on any line. The captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos, New York Islanders captain John Tavares and Corey Perry, Logan Couture among many, many others headline a star-studded event in the opposition’s defensive zone. Though Tyler Seguin had to pull out this week due to injuries, fear not Maple Leafers! They have Ryan O’Reilly as a great replacement.
Looking at team Canada’s roster, they truly have no weaknesses. Great goaltending, stellar defense, and some of the best shooters in the game, I don’t see a way the syrup lovers can’t win. In the end though, hockey returns almost a month early this year, so all you hockey fans sit back and relax. Hockey is back.