The top international hockey players in the world are assembled in Toronto, to resuscitate the World Cup Of Hockey after a twelve year absence to crown the top team on the planet.
As was already reported, the tournament will feature the “Big Six” nations (Canada, USA, Russia, Czechia, Sweden and Finland) playing alongside two collective squads – Team North America, with the top under-23 American and Canadian players, and Team Europe, made up of players not from one of the four qualified countries. The NHL has indicated that qualification tournaments are likely for future World Cups to ensure eight proper countries round out the field.
Group A is comprised of hosts Canada, the United States, Czechia and Team Europe, with Canada expected to win the group in front of the Toronto faithful. However, the Americans gave Canada quite a physical challenge in a pair of gritty pre-tournament games, while Czechia and Europe surprised Team North America and Sweden respectively with strong offensive outputs and goaltending. So while Canada is expected to top the group, their opponents will not make it easy.
Group B is made up of Russia, Sweden, Finland and Team North America, and is certainly the murkier of the two groups in terms of deciding a likely winner. Sweden boasts one of the top defensive corps in the world, but has had offensive struggles, as do the Finns. Russia has had outstanding play in pre-tournament games from Sergei Bobrovski, but has lacked the firepower thus far expected from the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Yevgeni Malkin. And North America is expected to surprise everyone, although their somber defeat at the hands of the Czechs in their final exhibition shows the many gaps in their play.
The tournament has been marred by injury woes thus far, as fifteen players originally named to national rosters are missing the tournament, snipers Henrik Zetterberg (Sweden), Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (both Canada), as well as defensive stars like Duncan Keith (Canada) and Niklas Kronwall (Sweden). Each team has at least one player absent, with Canada and Sweden each having to replace four men.
From the perspective of the IHLC, a few interesting facts related to this year’s World Championship:
– for the second straight World Cup (after 2004), the first exhibition tilt was won by the U.S. against Canada in Columbus, only to lose it the following game in Ottawa
– this marks the second straight World Cup where Canada enters with the IHLC, and fourth Cup tournament total (after the 1976 and 1981 Canada Cup)
– the tournament marks the return of the IHLC to Toronto for the first time since the 2004 final between Canada and Finland
– of the six national teams to play for the World Cup this year, only three have ever held the IHLC in World Cup history: Canada, the United States and Russia
– if Canada wins the World Cup, four players (Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews) and coach Mike Babcock can join the unofficial “Quadruple Gold Club,” adding a World Cup to their Triple Gold
Canada will enter the World Cup with the IHLC in tow, as a result of their victory in Pittsburgh against Russia. They open the tournament against Czechia on opening night, and while they will look to run the table as in 2004, the world has their sights set on an upset in Toronto. It should make for a great tournament!