When the World Cup of Hockey kicks off this September, over 180 of the best players in the world will square off in Toronto, looking to take home the gold. The tournament has many people excited, as they root for their country to claim international glory on the world stage. However, as hyped up as many people are for the event, there are plenty of hockey fans who will not be tuning in.
The World Cup of Hockey, while sounding rather exciting, comes with its pros, as well as its cons. Hockey fans have problems with several parts of the World Cup’s setup, and the most controversy seems to linger over the teams that aren’t nations at all — Team North America, and Team Europe.
Sure, these teams serve a purpose. On Team North America, you’ll see Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Auston Matthews, among others, line up together as one team. If that doesn’t excite you a bit, then you’re lying to yourself. But as an international hockey fan, I also see the glaring problem with it.
The fact of the matter is that the World Cup of Hockey isn’t so much an international competition, but an international showcase. It isn’t the Olympics – that’s just the truth of it. The World Cup can’t claim to take the place of the Olympics as long as there’s filler teams set up from a combination of countries. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily – that’s up for you to decide, but it’s key to point out that the World Cup is inherently different than Olympic competition.
Now you might argue that the World Cup of Hockey isn’t trying to replace the Olympics at all, however, it really is. The general consensus is that the NHL isn’t going to allow it’s players to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic games. The World Cup of Hockey, then, is designed to replace that, so that people can still cheer on their home country in some form of international competition. But with the inclusion of the generic “North America” and “Europe” teams, it’s hard to feel that they’re doing justice in replacing the Olympic games.
In reality, the replacement has made it so that there is no real international ice hockey competition for players above the age of 20. The World Championship isn’t it – it takes place during the NHL playoffs. The Olympics won’t be it anymore if the NHL isn’t allowing its players to go. And the IIHF World Juniors tournaments, while being extremely exciting, are exactly that – juniors tournaments, for players under the age of 20. There’s no more true international hockey – one country fighting it out against another for international glory. As a hockey fan, that stings a little bit.
Not to mention the fact that players on Team Europe won’t even be given the chance to really represent their country anymore. There’s a certain level of pride that one feels when throwing on the sweater of their nation, and that’s a feeling that’s being robbed of some very talented players, just because they weren’t born in Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, or Russia. I doubt the players are thrilled with that.
Nor will we be able to see the cinderella story of Anze Kopitar and Slovenia qualifying for the Olympic games. For that matter, there’s no qualification for the World Cup at all – so there isn’t even a chance for countries who traditionally are competitive, such as Slovakia, for example, to qualify for the games. That’s not great for the growth of the game.
I understand the argument for both of the general teams. Team North America will be exciting to watch, and will probably be pretty competitive. Team Europe makes sense because you don’t want to leave out the superstars that aren’t from traditional hockey powerhouse countries. But would the intensity of a USA-Canada Finals match-up be there if it were either team against Team North America or Team Europe?
Sure, I’ll still be tuning in, but the prospect of it is a bit underwhelming.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!