History and Background
After a 12-year hiatus, the World Cup of Hockey returns. This will be the third installment of the NHL (National Hockey League) sanctioned competition since the inaugural tournament in 1996. It is the successor to the Canada Cup tournament that ran from 1976 to 1991.
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This year’s festivities will take place in Toronto from 17 September to 1 October. With the best players in the world competing to reach the summit of international ice hockey. Eight teams will be competing, with two new teams replacing Slovakia and Germany of the last tournament. Europe and North America deputise for this edition. Both teams have criterias to be met for eligibility. For Team Europe all players have to be Europeans not from the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. While the North American team is made up of Americans and Canadians aged 23 and younger.
To the outsider this will be confusing as we could potentially have a North America v USA/Canada final. These two teams were setup in order to have as many NHL players in the competition. This has predictably led to criticisms from many claiming that these two teams will be merely making up the numbers to the tournament as they have a relatively slim chance of winning. However judging by the pre-tournament warm up matches, there could be a lot of surprises in place.
As mentioned earlier the puck will drop on 17 September with Europe v USA at 20:30 (BST). They’re joined in group A by pre-tournament favourites Canada and Czech Republic. Group B consists of Finland, North America, Russia and Sweden. The semi-finals will commence on the following weekend (24/25 September), with the final being a best of 3 that begins on 27 Sept. and if necessary Game 3 on 1 October.
As you can imagine there are many storylines and subplots to this competition that have led to a sense of ambiguity. None more so than Canada’s goaltender Carey Price. Who endured an injury-plagued campaign for the Montreal Canadiens that saw him limited to just 12 games. How will the 2014-15 NHL MVP respond after missing so much time off the ice. He has look composed in the pre-tournament friendlies, however international ice hockey is more of a sprint than a marathon in comparison to the 82-game regular season of the NHL.
Team North America
Smart money could go on North America whose stock has risen following a strong pre-tournament showing. Connor McDavid captains the youthful team and will be hoping that this tournament is one of many highlights in his young career. It will also be interesting to see how Auston Matthews, the #1 pick for this year’s draft plays. Matthews was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and will be under extreme scrutiny by the local media. Many people in the hockey stratosphere know that Torontonians are one of the most vocal (if not the most).
Following on from the ambiguity theme, not many have mentioned Russia as a legitimate contender. Write them off at your peril! With offensive juggernauts such as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Vladimir Tarasenko, it’s hard not to seeing them scoring goals at will. On the other hand their defence will not have many opposition offences quaking in their skates. The Russians have been underperforming in international competitions lately, none more so than at the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, that saw their great rivals Canada win the tournament. Can they return the favour and win on their rival’s territory?
Canada are the clear favourites for the competition. With players such as Sidney Crosby, Price, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Toews who can blame them. The Canadians have gone for the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ format as they’ve kept the majority of the players who won gold at Sochi two years ago in emphatic fashion, with head coach Mike Babcock also retaining his position. The big question is whether the Canadians can deliver on home ice in front of expectant fans.
Sweden and Finland
The Nordic countries of Sweden and Finland are on the periphery of the favourites discussion. Finland have a relatively young team, with the second overall pick of this year’s draft Patrik Laine the youngest at 18. Laine’s joined by his World Junior linemate Sebastien Aho, 19 who were arguably the main reason for Finland’s gold in the competition. As for Sweden they have debatably the strongest defensive core of the tournament and the best offensive defenseman in Erik Karlsson. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist will be looking to respond following his uncharacteristically poor showing for the New York Rangers in the playoffs.
Team USA have gone for a more grittier team than of Sochi two years ago. Notable omissions include Phil Kessel and Kevin Shattenkirk. The inclusion of players such as Jack Johnson and Justin Abdelkader have left a few bewildered. Head coach John Tortorella will hope that the aforementioned duo will give the side more aggression.
Team Europe and Czech Republic
The underdogs of the tournament are Europe and the Czech Republic. Intrigue surrounds the European team as it’s a mesh of all the other European countries represented in the league. Can they create chemistry from the get-go? Anze Kopitar captains the side, following another strong year for the LA Kings. Team Europe is one of the older teams of the tournament with an average age of 29.78 years. As for the Czechs, they’ve been going about their business quietly and have performed well in the friendlies. Like the Russians, Czech Republic haven’t got much depth to their defensive contingent. David Krejci, Tomas Hertl and the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr will be huge losses to the side.
My dark horse for the tournament is Finland 35/1 with Bet365
Prices correct at time of writing