World Cup of Hockey: 10 baffling questions, answered

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Training camps are open for the World Cup of Hockey, which means apparently it’s time to slightly care about the World Cup of Hockey.

If you’re like us, you have more than a few questions about this mysterious tournament and all of its trappings. Allow us a moment to provide as many answers as we can.

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With that, here are 10 baffling questions about the World Cup of Hockey, answered …

1 – Should I care about this thing?

Depends on who you are and what you’re reading.

In monitoring the pre-tournament chatter from NHL.com, the answer here would be: “Yes, of course! This might be the single most important international hockey tournament until the next World Cup of Hockey. Olympics? You know what the Olympics are for? Sequins, curling and refusing to bend to our will. Screw’em!”

In monitoring the pre-tournament chatter from many hockey fans, the answer here would be: “Yes, but only to find out if all of our beloved players escape this gimmick unharmed for the regular-season. And then, maybe, to do a happy dance when our team wins something.”

In monitoring the pre-tournament chatter from the majority of hockey media, the answer here would be: “Yes … well, sure … I mean, it beats covering completely inconsequential and meaningless preseason games and practices. At least this has a [expletive] trophy, the whiff of nostalgic importance and a few fleeting narratives and highlights we can all focus on for a few weeks. Also, Toronto has great bars, and two words: PER. DIEM.”

In monitoring the pre-tournament chatter from Ken Campbell of The Hockey News:


So where do I stand?

I’m down with it, ultimately.

Oh, it’s going to be hard navigating the perfect storm of prefabricated consequence from the NHL, the false sincerity about that consequence from players and the residual anger from Canadians kvetching about the sanctity of the World Cup and burning effigies of the U-23 team.

But it has a few things that are basically catnip for me. It’s hockey. It’s an all-star event. It’s something that, in theory, will bring fans from around the world to congregate and celebrate the sport I love. It’s on ESPN, which will be a cleansing experience on several levels. It’s given us fresh swag.

I’m also a rather easy lay for sporting events that prey on my jingoism and seeing the jingoism in others – I see you, everyone vs. Russia.

And, finally and most importantly, there will be at least one opportunity for the United States of America to beat Canada in Canada, which ranks somewhere around an all-the-meats pizza slice and a new season of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM on my personal gratification list.

2 – OK, but what’s actually at stake here?

See, that’s where it gets a little hazy for me.

Does this tournament mean as much for the players as the Olympics? Hell naw. The Stanley Cup Playoffs? Nope. The NHL regular season? Based on the WCoH Flu that’s been spreading like Zika through veteran players that are more concerned with the upcoming 82 games, that’d be “no.”

The IIHF world championships? Maybe, although there’s a lot more history there, especially since this is a World Cup of Hockey In Name Only. The NHL All-Star Game? I mean, you’d be hard-pressed to find something that means less to these guys than the NHL All-Star Game. (I only say this because John Scott, inexplicably, did not make the World Cup of Hockey roster.)

So along with the money they’ll generate for the NHLPA for playing in the tournament, it’ll be a battle for national pride, bragging rights and the like, on a much lower scale than the Olympics. Which essentially breaks down three ways:

  • Everyone trying to embarrass Canada while playing in Canada.

  • Canada trying to embarrass everyone while playing in Canada.

  • The U-23 team trying to get through to the semifinals so they can face either the USA or Canada.

  • Team Europe playing with a continental-sized chip on its shoulder for being the grab bag/potpourri entry, and going full seek-and-destroy on their group because of it.

Once this thing gets to the late stages of pool play and into the semifinals, I think we’ll see some competitive fire. Not because this thing is in any way as meaningful as their other hockey pursuits, but because there’s a Pavlovian response NHL players have to wearing their nation’s jersey on the ice in an elimination tournament.

Getty Images
Getty Images

3 – Is Green Day playing the World Cup of Hockey Fan Fest an indication that they’re now “NHL Awards” famous?

“American Idiot” was released in 2004.

3a – Are The Killers playing the World Cup of Hockey Fan Fest an indication that they’re now …

“Hot Fuss” was released in 2004.

4 – Why is this tournament format so dumb?

In case you needed a refresher, here is the World Cup of Hockey tournament format:

 

NHL
NHL

Now, this actually differs from the 1996 tournament format, which had the top three teams from each pool advancing to the “Knock-Out Bracket.” The winner of each pool had a bye to the next round. The second- and third-place teams battled in a quarterfinal round that doesn’t exist in the current incarnation.

The next question is, obviously, why not have three teams advance?

Hey, that’s a good one. Let’s take a look at the pools for this tournament:

NHL
NHL

As you can see, the whole thing is set up to have Canada (1A) face either Team USA (2A) or Team Sweden (1B) in the gold medal round best-of-three series.

Canada and the U.S. are in a Group with arguably the two weakest teams in the tournament, with the Czechs diminished even before the injuries and Team Europe being a giant pile of “who the hell knows?” They should be the first and second seeds in the group, and move into the semifinals.

Group B, meanwhile, as three really sexy teams from a matchup perspective with the USA or Canada, and then also Finland.

I’m guessing the failure to include a quarterfinal is an attempt to better control what teams will play in the semifinals and the final. But it robs us of some really intriguing matchups, like Team North America or Team Russia getting a crack at the Americans in the quarters. (Assuming the seeding plays out.)

Whatever the case, it’s pretty dumb. Unless you’re the NWHL, your tournament should have a quarterfinal.

5 – Should I care that this isn’t like the other World Cup or the Canada Cup?

Of course you shouldn’t, unless you want to sound like one of those raisin-brained drool sprinklers who claim that a bad GHOSTBUSTERS movie with ladies somehow diminishes a classic comedy released 32 years earlier. (When, in fact, that comedy’s direct sequel was itself a cynical cash-grab and an affront to cinema.)

Look, in a perfect world, the Swiss are in this thing. Because that nation has made incredible strides to be dangerous in every tournament, and not simply in a “maybe Martin Gerber steals one from the Canadians?!” way.

They won silver in worlds in 2013. They were a sixth seed in the Sochi medal round before being upset by Latvia. Nino Niederreiter, Roman Josi and Mark Streit would have been a good starting point. Although, admittedly, ‘Reto Berra and Prayers’ makes the U-23 goaltending look like Canada’s.

(And if you’re like, ‘there aren’t enough NHL players on the Swiss team!’ … well, Germany was in the 1996 World Cup with two NHL players, and one of them was Stefan Ustorf.)

If you flipped ‘Team Everyone Else In Europe’ for the Swiss, I would have been a happy boy. But that’s leaving a large number of players on the sidelines, including Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara, and the NHL wasn’t going to have that.

As for the U-23 Team North America, your gripes about its existence will fall on deaf ears because I’m in the tank for this team like I’m a clown fish at the aquarium.

Getty Images
Getty Images

TNA 4 LIFE.

[Does the nWo hand-touch thing with Connor McDavid.]

6 – What should the Team Europe and Team North America anthems be?

Chris Johnston reports that Team Europe will have an anthem, and how in the name of Mats André Zuccarello Aasen can it not be Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is already a European anthem. And royalty free. And prominently featured in DIE HARD.

Which leaves us with Team North America’s anthem, and leaves us with four obvious choices:

* Drake’s “Started from the Bottom.” Because Toronto is why.

* Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild.” Because Sebastian Bach gotta eat.

* The theme from JURASSIC PARK. Because it was released in 1993. When many of these players were born. Yes, you’re that old.

* A Skrillex mash-up of the American and Canadian national anthems, featuring Justin Bieber whisper singing like a serious artist.

Getty Images
Getty Images

7 – Is Russia’s defense uglier than the Team Europe jerseys?

If you held a military parade for the Team Russia defense through Red Square, it would be two guys with slingshots and a pickup truck with sparklers on the back.

Dmitri Orlov and Nikita Zaitsev would be a quality third pairing on most NHL teams. Andre Markov in a September exhibition tournament should be fun. Alexei Emelin does one thing really well and, again, this is a September exhibition tournament. Dmitry Kulikov? Effective in small doses. Nikita Nesterov? Alexei Marchenko?

The good news for Team Russia is that they could still win every game of the tournament 8-7 given their offensive firepower and the fact that their starting goalie knows a thing or two about thriving behind a porous defense.

8 – Who should play in goal for Canada?

The goalie battles are, legitimately, the most interesting thing in the run-up to the World Cup. Perhaps the only intriguing thing, to be honest. Unless you were on needles and pins about whether Anze Kopitar would get the Team Europe ‘C’. (Spoiler: He did.)

Jonathan Quick starting ahead of Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider?

Pekka Rinne or Tuukka Rask?

Michal Neuvirth or Petr Mrazek or Ondrej Pavelec?

And, of course, will Team Canada turn to Carey Price over Braden Holtby?

The last question is, of course, the most interesting one because of Price’s season-ending injury and the fact that he was in goal for the Sochi gold. The idea that Price’s return to the ice would be in an exhibition tournament instead of in a Montreal Canadiens’ sweater is a little freaky to begin with. The idea that Holtby hasn’t earned this crease while Price was on the mend is a legitimate point of debate.

That said, the Washington Capitals’ star says it’s Price’s job. For whatever that’s worth.

Getty Images
Getty Images

9 – Shouldn’t we be playing this tournament during the season?

Of course, but that’s not what the owners want.

There are many, many reasons why the NHL is playing chicken with the IOC right now. (Look no further than the mountains of cash they’ll be making off of World Cup of Hockey swag, since they can’t even produce a licensed keychain for the Olympics.) But one of them, from the perspective of the owners, is that they’re tired of shutting down the regular season for the Olympics and not seeing any benefit from it.

Of course, they’ll see plenty of benefit from the World Cup, from a revenue perspective. But, for now, it’s a preseason tournament, as it’s been in previous incarnations.

From the New York Times in 1996, with the World Cup starting in late August:

”This isn’t classic hockey time,” said Bob Goodenow, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association. ”This is not a typical time for hockey fans to tune in. But this is the best hockey that anyone will ever see. So, we think that the tournament will really build momentum. The hockey fan — and the general sports fan — will appreciate what this is all about, very soon.”

This doesn’t mean the World Cup couldn’t still end up in-season, especially if the NHL ends its Olympic participation. There’s been talk for years about an NHL Ryder Cup tournament that would be played in-season.

But for now, it’s a September tournament dealing with the same September competition it always faces.

Hey, at least this time, the World Cup isn’t just a tearful goodbye to the players before a work stoppage. Which is nice.

10 – Finally, is the negativity surrounding the tournament going to subside?

Sure.

The World Cup of Hockey seems to be following the same lifecycle of the Summer Olympics: The host city is criticized for the event’s existence, in comparison to previous entries in the series; the various examples of corruption, mismanagement and violation of the spirit of the Games is pushed to the forefront by the media; people outright say they’re going to ignore the event for “reasons”; then their athletes win something significant, or have an inspirational moment, and suddenly the criticisms of the event are drowned in a tidal wave of triumphant “feels.”

Based on what we’ve seen, and what we anticipate, such will be the World Cup of Hockey.

Well, assuming Canada at least makes the final. Otherwise it’s a giant waste of time.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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