The return of the World Cup
The epitome of hockey
By Brendan Stasiewich, Sports Editor
In the billion-dollar sports industry it’s easy for owners to be weary of their players (or from many of their points of view, assets) competing in international tournaments.
Why take the risk of one of your “assets” suffering a substantial injury during a meaningless (from an owner’s point of view) game that forces them to miss time from the team you pay them to play for?
This reason is also why many GMs are against NHL players competing in the Olympics; but every four years each player chosen to represent their country jumps at the opportunity to compete on sport’s biggest stage. With the return of the World Cup, this is no different; and owners seem to hate it.
But honestly, owners, you’re already rich.
I understand that in 2014 John Tavares suffered an injury during Olympic competition that forced him to miss time from the New York Islands season, but I guarantee if you asked him whether he regretted wearing the Red and White he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Many in the NHL, be it owners or managers, need to get over themselves; and Bettman’s latest gimmick of putting a hockey team in Vegas to stir attention (and perhaps finally get hockey highlights shown for more than two minutes on American Sportscenter) is an example of everything wrong with the NHL.
While I could write this entire column on the Vegas “experiment”, I’d rather look at something the NHL did right: The World Cup of Hockey, which has thus far happily surprised many critics.
What’s not to love? The best players in the world playing each other, the quality of the broadcasts, and an overall fun atmosphere. For once, commissioner Gary Bettman doesn’t look so bad.
This could’ve gone the other way, especially with the lead-up and pre-competition hype being shaky at best. Bettman was probably the first one to take a huge sigh of relief after realizing the on ice turnout was excellent.
The players could have half-assed their way around the ice all tournament. The players could have decided they’d be better suited at training camps. The jersey ads could have been such a distraction that hockey fans turned off their TVs.
However none of the above turned out poorly. The players actually care, (as exhibited by Alexander Ovechkin’s emotional reaction to his game tying goal in Russia’s opening game being disallowed), if anything they’re getting better prepared for the regular season, and the jersey ads don’t actually suck (surprisingly).
And I haven’t even gotten to the best part of the competition. The 23-years old and under Team North America.
It’s like if you played the NHL video game with a custom team comprised of all of the best and fastest young players in the league. Sure, the overall rating wouldn’t be as good as many NHL teams, let alone Team Canada, but they’d give them a run for their money… literally.
Defenses can contain a single fast player. For example, while Johnny Gaudreau is one of (if not) the fastest player(s) in the league, he’s usually only able to find enough open ice to use his speed a few plays per game. Defensemen are simply too good and generally do a good job containing a guy who scored on command at lower levels.
But what happens when every player on a team is one of the fastest in the league? Can a defense really contain three fast forwards on the ice at any one time? The result is some of the fastest and most exciting hockey I’ve seen in recent memory.
Top lines: Eichel, McDavid, Gaudreau. Matthews, Bennett, Galchenyuk. It sounds like an armchair GM did a fantasy draft and only selected the top percentile of the fastest skaters in the league.
Whether North America wins the competition or not, they’ve been the most pleasant surprise to come out of the tournament; if you blink you might miss something.
What a fun team. What a fun tournament.