The 2016 World Cup of Hockey is an international ice hockey tournament that brings together the world’s best teams, much like its soccer counterpart. It is the third installment of the National Hockey League-sponsored competition, coming 12 years after the second World Cup of Hockey in 2004. The tournament began on Sept. 17, with the championship game scheduled for Oct. 1 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.
The World Cup of Hockey features a unique tournament format, which begins with three pre-tournament exhibition games. The eight participating teams are then split into two groups, A and B.
In the following preliminary rounds, each team goes up against its in-group opponent in a round-robin tournament set-up.
This year’s tournament features Canada, the Czech Republic, the United States and Team Europe–a pan-European roster of players from countries outside of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden–which make up Group A.
The four teams in Group B are Finland, Russia, Sweden and Team North America, which is a selection of the top players from Canada and the United States who are 23 or under as of Oct. 1, 2016.
The Canadians enter as the clear favorites to advance out of Group A and to win the whole tournament. Team Canada puts forward a scary offense with megastar Sidney Crosby at the helm of a dominant supporting cast highlighted by Steven Stamkos, Logan Couture, Patrice Bergeron and John Tavares—hockey’s version of the dream team.
The rest of the field will have a hard time playing against Team Canada, with its array of high-caliber players that allows for versatility against any opponent’s skill set. After not seeing game action since last November, starting goaltender Carey Price seems rusty at times, but he is a reckoning force when healthy and is primed to make a rebound in his latest appearance.
Team USA is a rough and tough group led by head coach John Tortorella, whose strong presence brings the best out of his players. Team USA is physical, able to wear down teams and protect late leads in the game. However, a weak bench could force the starters to play extended periods of time, wearing them out and leaving them prone to injury.
The Czech Republic entered the tournament with a significant disadvantage, as key players Thomas Hertl, David Krejci and Radko Gudas were sidelined with injuries. Throughout the exhibition play, special teams played exceptionally well, although the defense posed a glaring weakness.
Team Europe’s roster is primed with former Stanley Cup winners, including Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Mats Zuccarello, a diverse mix of scorers, power forwards and playmakers. Scoring will not be a problem for this team, but the defense is very thin and old, a weakness in late-game situations.
Leading the pack for Group B is team Finland with tremendous raw potential provided by a relatively young roster. While 18-year-old Patrik Laine is a monster in the making, he is being asked to carry the Finns on the top line as first power-play unit. Head coach Lauri Marjamaki has yet to choose his No. 1 goaltender, with Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne hoping to secure the role. Team Finland will find it difficult to translate young talent into wins against its powerhouse opponents, although the team has a bright future to look out for as its players gain experience.
The North American team is full of players who are young, quick and can score the puck at will. The potential of highly skilled youngsters, including Johnny Gaudreau, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Auston Matthews, is mouth-watering. Even though this team is young, it has a very good shot at advancing out of Group B. Matt Murray will be the starting goaltender as he leads the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup Championship.
Team Russia has Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin and Vladimir Tarasenko, who are a deep collection of goal scorers. Even though the team’s defense is a little shaky, the superb offense will pick up the slack and take over. This offensive firepower could mask any defensive deficiencies, especially since No. 1 netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is a strong enough goaltender between the pipes.
Throughout exhibition play, the Swedes has had many defensive miscues that have downplayed a rather talented team. Team Sweden suffered tremendous losses after Nicklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg and Alex Steen suffered from injuries.
Nonetheless, offensive juggernaut Erik Karlsson, Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman possess the speed and agility to supplement the team’s losses. If things start to click, this team will get going behind star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who will give his team excellent chances of winning.
The World Cup of Hockey features an interesting playoff format, in which the top two teams advance to a semifinal that matches the top team from Group A with the runner-up from Group B, and vice-versa.
The two finalists are then set for a best-of-three championship. Team Canada is far ahead of the competition and is the favorite to win its second consecutive championship since the team dominated the field back in 2004. However, with the ample amount of talent team Canada is up against, it must not play complacently as there are many teams capable of pulling off upsets on the tournament favorites.