Thrilling USA-Japan WBC final shows why men's hockey needs a similar tournament
Thrilling USA-Japan WBC final shows why men's hockey needs a similar tournament originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The 2023 World Baseball Classic was a great tournament.
The players took it very seriously, and there was a great amount of pride in representing their country on the world stage. Tuesday night's championship final between the United States and Japan in Miami was fantastic, too. It ended in dramatic fashion with Los Angeles Angels teammates -- Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani -- going head-to-head in the bottom of the ninth inning. Ohtani and Japan prevailed for their third WBC title.
Baseball isn't the only sport that has this kind of best-on-best competition on the international stage. Basketball is a prominent part of the Summer Olympics. Soccer has the World Cup and European Championships, among others. Golf has the Ryder Cup. You get the picture.
One sport that's had many thrilling international matchups but has lacked that kind of excitement for a long time is men's hockey. The last time this sport had a best-on-best tournament featuring NHL players was the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. The last time men's hockey in the Winter Olympics included NHL players was 2014 -- almost a decade ago.
How cool would it be if Team Canada led by Connor McDavid and Team USA led by Auston Matthews battled for the gold medal at the 2026 Winter Olympics? It would be must-see TV for sports fans around the world.
"I thought (the WBC) was really cool," McDavid told reporters Wednesday. "It's what we've been asking for in hockey for a long time, right? Best-on-best. Look, everyone is talking about baseball, and 'did you see Ohtani vs. Trout?', and that's what hockey has been missing for almost a decade now."
"It's what we've been asking for in hockey for a long time, right? Best-on-best... 'Did you see Ohtani vs Trout?' That's what hockey's been missing for almost a decade now."
Connor McDavid wants to see the NHL do best-on-best. ð pic.twitter.com/sSidLA1EbV
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) March 22, 2023
The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was the last time men's hockey had a stage similar to what we saw in the WBC Final on Tuesday night. Canada played against the United States in a game that featured a dramatic third period comeback by the Americans to force overtime. Canada prevailed in the extra period when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal. The game drew massive ratings, and it's actually the most-watched broadcast in Canadian television history.
It was one of the most memorable games in the history of the sport, and having the best players from the NHL allowed to compete was a huge factor in that.
NHL players not going to the last two Winter Olympic Games wasn't due to a lack of interest on their part. Many of these players badly wanted to go and compete for the gold medal while representing their country. Several of them were outspoken about the NHL's decision not to send its players to the 2022 Winter Olympics, including Boston Bruins star Brad Marchand.
"It's extremely disappointing that the players aren't going," Marchand said in December of 2021. "I think guys have worked their entire lives to put themselves in position to compete at that level and that opportunity. It should be guys' decisions whether they choose to go or not, regardless of what's happening in the world. If the Olympics are on and they're playing, the best players in the world should have that option. It's tough to deal with."
The United States has produced a ton of awesome hockey players since NHL players last competed in the Olympics. Auston Matthews and Charlie McAvoy have never played in the Olympics. McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and many other Canadian stars have zero Olympic appearances. Other elite players such as David Pastrnak (Czech Republic), Nikita Kucherov (Russia), Leon Draisaitl (Germany) and many others haven't participated in the Olympics, either.
If NHL players don't send their players to the Olympics in 2026, they should at least hold some kind of similar tournament to ensure these players can represent their country. The World Cup of Hockey is a good alternative, but that event has been held just three times -- 1996, 2004 and 2016 -- in the last 30 years.
The World Cup of Hockey could return in 2025. If that scenario happens, we would have gone 11 years without a best-on-best international tournament in men's hockey.
One of the best ways to grow a sport is having international tournaments that feature the top players in the world. Look at what the 1992 Summer Olympics and the Team USA Dream Team did for basketball in making it a global game.
Hockey needs something similar. NHL players going back to the Winter Olympics would be ideal, but the World Cup of Hockey would be fine as well. Whatever it is, the sport needs something like what we saw in the WBC on Tuesday night.