Who owns hockey? It’s the question we’ve been hearing for weeks, and even months, heading into the World Cup of Hockey (#WCH2016). While we may not have the final answer just yet, we have learned quite a bit from the reboot of this international tournament. There have been countless world class moments, with intrigue only escalating since the puck dropped for the preliminary games. And with all of this intrigue, we have plenty of takeaways heading into tonight’s first game of the best-of-three finals!
In talking about the World Cup of Hockey, how can we not start with the darlings of the tournament – Team North America (@TeamNA_WCH)? With the goal of bringing eight competitive teams to the table and maximizing the NHL (@NHL) talent hitting the ice, Team North America was born. But they did not come without an abundance of questions, as no one really knew what to expect from this gimmicky team of youngsters who would be going toe-to-toe with their elder-statesmen in a best-on-best tournament. But these questions were quickly answered in what can only be described as some of the most entertaining hockey we’ve seen in quite some time!
Whether player, management, fan, or casual onlooker, Team North America made people stop and watch. They started with a convincing 4-1 win over Team Finland and ended with miraculous 4-3 (OT) win over pool-winning Team Sweden, coming within inches of what would have become the dream semi-final against Canada. Connor McDavid (@cmcdavid97) dazzled with his speed and ability; Toronto Maple Leafs’ (@MapleLeafs) top draft pick Auston Matthews (@AM34) put on a clinic (at times while not even on his skates) in front of his new home crowd, going from 13th forward to offensive centrepiece; and Nathan MacKinnon’s (@Mackinnon9) OT winner against Sweden was the icing on the cake. And even though the team ultimately fell short, their performance has sparked even further question heading into the next World Cup affair, and we can’t wait to see how they’re answered!
While Team North America shone, others did not. A few teams struggled mightily in the tournament, including Team Finland (who failed to find their scoring touch) and Team Czech Republic (who couldn’t overcome their pre-tournament injuries to stay competitive), but none of that compares to the demise of Team USA (@usahockey). A lot was made of Team USA heading into the tournament, as their roster sent a clear message as to how the Americans were planning to beat their opponents, and more specifically, #TeamCanada. This gritty style of play was front and centre, and proved to be a talking point after the team’s first pre-tournament game against the Canadians. But when push came to shove (sometimes literally), the USA capped off their tournament in winless fashion, which included a convincing loss to the team they were built to beat.
But it wasn’t just the on-ice deficiencies that defined Team USA, as they also fell victim to the tweet heard ‘round the world from countryman Phil Kessel (@PKessel81). Kessel, a surprise snub from the World Cup squad, was able to use his 140 characters to rub salt in the wounds of his compatriots, and the world welcomed the Stanley Cup champion’s third tweet of the year with open arms. Needless to say, when the team’s on-ice performance is but a mere afterthought to the off-ice antics of someone who wasn’t even on the roster, the #WCH2016 is nothing short of utter failure for the John Tortorella (@JohnTortorella2) led Team USA.
From a team who actually accomplished nothing to a team many thought would accomplish nothing, Team Europe (@TeamEUR_WCH) has thoroughly embraced the underdog role. Made up of the “best of the rest” after the top European hockey nations secured their countrymen, there certainly wasn’t a strong case for Team Europe to make any noise in the tournament. But not only have they made noise, they have made the finals. This scrappy group, made up of eight different nations, has shocked the hockey world, with pre-tournament wins over Team North America and Team Czech Republic, along with a tournament-opening shutout against the aforementioned Americans and a dazzling semi-final success story against the talented Swedes. They may not have the same star power, they may not have the same following, they may not even have an anthem, but Team Europe has come together like the hockey gods hoped they would under the guidance of Ralph Krueger.
The real star for Team Europe may stand between the pipes, however, as Jaroslav Halak has been a revelation for this Cinderella story. Sure, Canada’s Carey Price (@CP0031) may have a higher save percentage; sure, Russia’s Sergei Bobrovsky may be the goalie to take the most away from the World Cup heading into the NHL season; but Halak may very well be the most valuable netminder, backstopping the team of misfits to an appearance in the finals. Some thought it was a joke; some thought it was a mistake; some thought they’d be the laughing stock of the tournament. But here they are in the finals and we think it’s safe to say that no one should be underestimating Team Europe anymore!
Finally, we get to Team Europe’s opposition for the finals, who have proven, once again, to be the definition of an embarrassment of riches. Coached by Mike Babcock, Team Canada (@HC_Men) have a system, they have their roles, and everyone from top to bottom buys in. Before even stepping on the ice in their first round robin game, the Canadians were without the likes of Jamie Benn (@jamiebenn14), Tyler Seguin (@tseguinofficial), Jeff Carter (@JeffCarter_77), and Duncan Keith (@DuncanKeith), but do they care? One of the best and most decorated players in the world took on the role of third-line checker / defensive specialist, but does he complain? And the nation, as a whole, entered play with seven other teams placing the target squarely on the maple leaf, but do they waver?
Sidney Crosby continues to lead the way, from the tournament’s opening goal to his opener against Team Russia in the semis. Behind Captain Canada, well, it would be easier to list the players who haven’t stood out for Team Canada, as the perennial powerhouse has come out in fine form throughout. Trailing for mere minutes all tournament, Team Canada has now won 14 straight games in best-on-best international play, with no signs of slowing down. The offense has been spread throughout the line-up, the defense has stood tall in their stingy play, and Carey Price has returned to world-class form after missing the majority of last season for Montreal (@CanadiensMTL).
Everything is coming up gold for the red and white, and we don’t think it will be long before we find out once and for all that it is, in fact, Canada who owns hockey!