Hockey Nations Series Preview

One thing that is interesting in the game of hockey today is how so many different countries are represented in the game. Personally I am a huge fan of any type of international ice hockey tournament. The World Juniors are a great tournament to watch the stars of tomorrow battle it out on the international stage.

The World Championships are great I’m sure as well, even though admittedly I do not catch a lot of the action because of Stanley Cup Playoff time. The Olympics have been the biggest stage of them all for international hockey. The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were ones to remember in ice hockey, and especially for Team Canada who captured Gold Medals at both tournaments.

The World Championships and Olympic Hockey are governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). The NHL’s future is uncertain at the Olympics because of the 3 week delay in the season that has to occur every 4 years. The NHL does not see revenue from the Olympics and players risk injury. In addition some teams can gain a lot of rest during this break while others send multiple players to compete and then re-enter the grind of the NHL season. This was the case for the San Jose Sharks in 2010 when they sent an NHL leading 8 players to the Winter Olympics. In just 15 months will be a return to hockey of a major tournament that has only taken place on Canadian soil. The World Cup of Hockey will be back in 2016.

(Icon SMI)
Joe Thornton was one of the 8 San Jose Sharks participating in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.(Icon SMI)

World Cup of Hockey

The World Cup of Hockey was established in 1996 and had been previously held that year and then again in 2004 right before the 2004-2005 National Hockey League lockout. The United States won the inaugural tournament in 1996 and Canada won in 2004. Highlights from the classic 1996 Game 3 between the United States and Canada can be seen below.

The great thing about this tournament is that the NHL runs the tournament with NHL rules and NHL size ice. Sure the international ice is fun to watch, but there is also something about the regulation size rink and playoff feel to the action. Also the best players compete in this tournament. The NHL’s best will be competing in just 15 months before the 2016-2017 NHL season. The tournament will take place from September 17th-October 1st.

It will be in the hockey capital of the world, Toronto. All of the games for the World Cup of Hockey will be played at the Air Canada Centre. Another cool thing about this tournament is the return of hockey to ESPN. The NHL and ESPN parted ways in 2004 and ESPN has recently gained United States television rights for this tournament.

ESPN just has the rights to this tournament specifically obviously, as the NHL has a contract with NBC for the rest of this decade. I believe NBC does an amazing job, but it will be interesting to see big time hockey on ESPN for the few weeks of the tournament. The best part of hockey on ESPN was the theme song and intro before games. Here is a classic one before a 1995 Stanley Cup Playoff game between the New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques.

What about the teams for the tourney and who appears to be the early favorite?

8 teams, 3 rounds to Glory

There will be 6 countries participating in the World Cup of Hockey as a team. The participating countries will be Canada, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, and the United States. There are also two wild-card teams in this tournament. There will be a European All-Star team and a North American U-23 squad. I call these two teams wild cards because nobody will pick these teams to win and maybe they can surprise some people.

I’m sure the European All-Star team will have a lot of very good European players who do not have the luxury of having their country in this tournament. I expect to see on the European team players such as : Anze Kopitar (Slovenia), Mats Zuccarello (Norway), Roman Josi (Switzerland),  Jonas Hiller (Switzerland), Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia), Zdeno Chara (Slovakia), Marian Gaborik (Slovakia), and Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia), to name a few.

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
2 time Stanley Cup Champion Anze Kopitar is a lock to be a top center for the European Team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The young stars North American team is yet to be seen because it is quite possible that players such as Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are taken by their host countries. The U-23 North American team is the biggest wild card in this tournament and will definitely be by far the biggest underdogs. It will be interesting to see what they can do in this round robin tournament with young stars of USA and Canada on one team. Furthermore, according to recent reports Canada and the United States have been grouped together for the round robin. While the young stars of the countries will be uniting, the regulars on the national teams will be batting for glory.

The tournament will be divided into two groups of four teams in each group. Each team will play three games with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semi-finals. The semi-finals will place teams against an opponent from the opposite group. The finals will be a best-of-3 series. This is going to be a very exciting event for players, coaches, and fans all over the world.

Hockey Nations

Who are the best players for the top hockey countries in the world right now in the National Hockey League? I am going to be taking a look at that over the next two weeks. I will rank my top players from the top 8 hockey countries based on the IIHF rankings.

I realize IIHF is not involved in the World Cup of Hockey, but it is an efficient way to see who currently the top ranked hockey nations in the world are. My rankings will be based on the top players today as if I was constructing a team for the 2015-2016 season only. I am looking for the players right now that would give my team the best chance to win. I will post the top 5 players for 8th ranked Slovakia and 7th ranked Switzerland.

Dmytro Timashov has a very similar style of play and skillset as Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers. [photo: Amy Irvin]
Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers should be a player selected for the European All-Stars  [photo: Amy Irvin]
The top 6 nations will be getting a top 10 players ranking as a result of having a lot more players in the league. Here will be the schedule for the posts counting down from 8th ranked Slovakia to top ranked Canada.
5/29- Slovakia, 5/31- Switzerland, 6/2- Czech Republic, 6/5- United States, 6/10- Finland, 6/15- Sweden, 6/22- Russia, 6/26- Canada, 6/29

There is the schedule. Hope you enjoy the Hockey Nations Series. A lot of these players will be representing their countries during the 3rd World Cup of Hockey.