With the NHL postseason and free agency period wrapped up, the next big event on the worldwide professional hockey calendar is the two week-long 2016 World Cup of Hockey event that’s set to take place in mid-September. The schedule of events begins with round-robin play on September 17th, the preliminary round beginning on September 20th, and the single-elimination semifinal rounds taking place on September 24th.
For those who don’t fully understand the event: think of it as a mini-, off-year version of the Olympics, where professional hockey players from eight different countries represent their nations in a hockey tournament. Those countries include Canada (the host of the event), the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, “Team North America” (Canadian and American players that are 23 years old and under), and Team Europe (comprised of players from every other European nation not mentioned).
As is to be expected, Team Canada — winners of the 2014 Olympic Gold Medal — is the prohibitive favorite in this year’s event. Their roster comprises players with a combined 22 Olympic gold medals, including 16 from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. They’ll be headlined by Pittsburgh Penguins’ center Sidney Crosby, who is fresh off a Stanley Cup victory and was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team.
Conversely, the American team is mired in controversy as their finalized 23-man roster was announced. When the tournament gets underway in Toronto on Sept. 17, five of the most talented Americans will be nowhere near the Air Canada Centre ice. Phil Kessel, Tyler Johnson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Faulk and Cam Fowler were bizarrely omitted when USA Hockey revealed its final seven roster selections; conventional wisdom would’ve been for all five players to be virtual shoo-ins for the American squad.
It’s true that Team USA’s last performance — a 5-0 rout at the hands of Finland in the 2014 Olympic bronze medal game — exacerbated the theory that the Americans put together an undisciplined and spiritless squad, which ultimately needed to be changed. But leaving players of that caliber seemed to be way too dramatic. But the speed of Kessler and Johnson, when the most hockey players in the world will be facing off against them, seems to be too much to overcome.
Instead, the Americans are going to try and replace Dan Bylsma and his stubborn insistence of a 1-2-2 system with the black-and-blue, grit-and-grind style of hockey favored by new coach John Tortorella. They’re looking for guys who commit to the system first, as opposed to relying on overall talent.
Barring any upset of David vs. Goaliath proportions, it’s difficult to envision any of the teams in the field dethroning Canada. The North American “under 24” team is stacked with the talent to really take it Canada, but they simply don’t have the same level of experience that the decorated Canadian squad does. Team Europe might be able to score with the Canadians, but they don’t have the blue line to stop them from outscoring them. The same can be said about the Russians, too. Sweden is the mirror opposite: they might have one of the best defensive groups in the tournament, but not nearly the scoring potency to keep up. The Czech’s and the Fins are always interesting squads, but they just don’t seem like they can stack up with Canada this year.