By Rob Ficiur
If you are counting there are only 203 days until the championship game for the World Cup of Hockey. Are you excited yet? Here is why I am getting excited:
1. The NHL season has been disappointing. As of this minute zero of the seven Canadian based NHL teams are in a playoff spot. Ottawa and Montreal are only five and eight points out respectively. While we have a chance of a “local” team making the playoffs, there is not much hope that that team can win a championship. The four lowest teams on the NHL standings are from Canada.
By this point in the NHL season even loyal fans are tuning out. If you are a hockey fan you want to cheer for a winner. Yes, your team could win a big draft pick in but that has not helped Edmonton so far. Ho hum, we don’t care about this season anymore, where is the fast forward button?
2. The World Cup of hockey is a best on best tournament.
This tournament will be the thirteenth time there has been a best on best tournament with all the top hockey countries in the world competing. From 1956 to 1994 the Soviet Union won eight of the ten Olympic Gold Medals. We chose not to care because our best players were not in those tournaments.
Since the NHL players began going to the Olympics in 1998 that has been the site of most best on best tournaments. Once the puck drops fans won’t care if it is called Olympics, Canada Cup, World Cup of Hockey or Fall Hockey fun – the best will be playing and we will watch.
3. Olympic hockey has had its ups and downs. While we all loved watching the men hockey gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, not all Olympiads are fan friendly. When the games were in Japan, Russia and Italy the time of the games were not ideal for Canadian fans.
The future of NHL Olympic hockey participation is an ongoing debate. The 2018 Olympics are in South Korea, the 2022 games will be in China. The 2026 Olympics is the soonest there can possibly be an Olympiad in a time friendly place for us. The 2026 Winter Olympics will be announced in 2019.
4. Changes to the World Cup of Hockey make it more competitive
In the last three Olympic Games there have been twelve, twelve and ten teams represented. In that three tournaments the many weaker teams do not win a game. These countries include: Italy, Latvia (three times), Norway (twice), Switzerland, Germany (twice) and Slovakia.
Instead of fielding inferior squads from these countries, the World Cup of Hockey created a European team. Players who are not from Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic will play for this team. The European roster announced this week is full of NHL stars who have never won on the Olympic stage.
The Young Stars team is another interesting concept. Any Canadian or American player under 23 can only play for the young stars team. Connor McDavid could have been on Team Canada, but will now be on this young star team. How will they do?
5. Canada usually wins
In the first twelve best on best tournaments, Canada was the champion eight times. Our chances of winning the World Cup of Hockey are good but not guaranteed. Teams from Sweden, USA, Russia and Europe could easily dethrone Canada. In the 1998 and the 2006 Olympic tournaments Canada did not get a medal. The ups and downs of watching Canada try for the peak of hockey superiority is some of the best fan memories I have. (If Canada loses I don’t want to talk about it)
6. Team Canada’s Roster announcements were just right.
This week all eight teams announced sixteen players who would be on their final 23 man roster. After winning gold in 2002 we sent basically the same players back to the 2006 Olympics and got no medal. The players on the initial roster are the core of the 2014 Olympic Gold team. Some star players like Montreal’s P.K. Subban and Anaheim’ Cory Perry did not make the initial roster. Picking the right type of talent is more difficult than just selecting the best 23 players.
By mid-September we will be ready for hockey to start up. What better way to begin the season than with a best on best tournament. (Especially this year when many of us have tuned out NHL hockey in March).