The World Cup of Hockey is here.
If you haven’t read our preview/overview of the World Cup of Hockey yet, click here. If you have and are all ready to go, you’ve come to the right place.
Now that all 8 teams have played their “exhibition” games, it is time to move on to the actual tournament. So with that, we will breakdown the 8 teams and let you know what exactly you should be watching for after the puck drops on Saturday.
You should get used to Canada being first when it comes to this tournament, or any other international hockey tournament for that matter. They are a juggernaut. Led by their captain Sidney Crosby, Team Canada boasts the strongest lineup on paper. They are embarrassingly deep when it comes to overall talent and they know it.
What to watch for: A very skilled hockey team that can do just about anything and everything. Even though they have had a few players drop off of the team due to injuries, the Canadians are still sitting pretty as the favorite to win the tournament. If they could have a ‘Canada B’ team, they’d probably get second place to the ‘Canada
Ehh A’ team. The only thing that might be Canada’s downfall is too much skill. Doesn’t that sound like a awful problem to have…
Who to watch for: Take your pick. Do you like gifted offensive players? Try out Matt Duchene, Steven Stamkos, and John Tavares. Do you like defensive forwards? See: Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, and Ryan O’Reilly. Are players that get under your skin more your style? They have those in Brad Marchand, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf. Defensemen more your thing? You’re in luck with Brent Burns, Drew Doughty, and Shea Weber holding up the back end. How about the puck stopper? Goaltenders Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, and Carey Price know a thing or two about doing that.
Basically what I’m trying to say is Canada is pretty good so you better get used to watching them in this tournament, they will be around til the end.
Poor, Czech Republic. The Czechs managed to find themselves in Group A with Canada, USA, and Team Europe. While they aren’t necessarily bad at hockey, they don’t have as much top end talent as the other teams do.
What to watch for: The Czechs will open tournament play against the mighty Canadians. Look for them to try and get a quick start on a Canada team that may try to overlook the Czechs in their first game. After that they will face up against Team Europe and if they can get a W there, could set up a pretty interesting game with the Americans.
Who to watch for: While the Czechs don’t have as much firepower as others, they do have some skilled players. Jakub Voracek will look to put his offensive style of play on display while Ondrej Palat will get into the dirty areas and make opponents work for their ice. Youngsters Radek Faksa, Dmitrij Jaskin, and David Pastrnak will get their fair share of ice time as well.
The Czech Republic might surprise some people in this tournament. Those people will be their friends and family when they come home as they will be bounced out of this tournament after their three round robin games.
With all the attention of the two “fake teams” going to North America, don’t overlook Team Europe. Even though the are a made up team, most the players on team Europe have been around for a while both in the NHL and on National teams. They have the experience and some youth, and maybe some distaste. That could prove to be a dangerous concoction.
What to watch for: If Team Europe can find some chemistry and rhythm, they could wreck the plans of either the Canadians or the Americans. Europe has had the disadvantage of playing with other players from around Europe. Even though these are professional athletes, they are not used to each others style of play and can’t jump in with their fellow countrymen and play like the others. Because of this they could be overlooked by a USA team in game one. If the Americans come out flat and Europe comes out clicking, the entire tournament could be turned onto its head after one game.
Who to watch for: Look no further then Captain Anze Kopitar. The Kings captain is the only player to hail for Slovenia on the team but he has quite the track record. He has won two Stanley Cups with the Kings and his Slovenia team almost pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Olympic Hockey history, falling to Canada 2-1 in the Quarterfinals of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Team Europe could pull off some magic in the tournament. They could if they had more time and help, look for them to battle the Czechs for the basement of Group A.
Team USA really, really wants to beat Canada. So badly that they openly said they constructed their team based on what it would take to beat Canada. Will it work? They beat them once in the exhibitions games but they will need to beat them again, maybe even twice, to accomplish their goal.
What to watch for: Unlike the Canadians, Team USA didn’t go entirely for skilled players. If they did, Phil Kessel would probably be on the team instead of eating another cheeseburger with the Stanley Cup. To each their own. Anyways, USA went with the more team like approach. They picked guys who play to their role: goal scorers, two way forwards, and guys that will straight up piss you off. With that, expect the USA to play a very physical game no matter who they face up against, but, especially against Canada.
Who to watch for: Ryan Kesler. Kesler is an agitator with some skills who hates Canada. What more would Team USA want? Not to mention to his huge hit against Shea Weber in a exhibition game against the Canadians. Oh, and probably that guy Patrick Kane who scored all of the goals last year.
Team USA will get their chance to literally beat Canada on September 20th. You do not want to miss that game. Winner will should take Group A, but will they ultimately meet again?
Team Finland is kind of like my first car. I drove a 1997 88 Oldsmobile. It was dubbed a ‘grandma’ car and some of my friends would make fun of it. But my grandma car was unique and fast and even though people doubted it, it won a few drag races.
What to watch for: Like my Olds, Finland isn’t going to scary you by its looks, but when you put them to the test, watch out. Team USA knows a little bit about this from the Olympics in 2014 after they got defeated by Finland 5-0 in the Bronze medal game. Some of the players a different, but some are older and better than they were and some new fresh faces certainly will help their cause as well. They are all skilled and they can hang with the best of them, and even beat them.
Who to watch for: The Minnesota Wild will feature three players on the team: Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, and Mikko Koivu. Koivu is their captain and a vet on the team, while Granlund and Haula are both speedsters that could be taken lightly. Also, Patrik Laine will make his debut after being second overall in the draft. Laine has been compared to Alex Ovechkin and has already made it clear that he knows he is good and doesn’t care what you think.
Team Finland wants you to think they are a grandma car. Don’t be like my friends and doubt them until you see them in action. They could be the surprise team to come out of Group B.
The second of the two “fake” teams, Team North America is already quite the story. The “What the hell am I doing with my life” team is out to prove to the world that a team full of really freakishly skilled kids can beat anybody they want to.
What to watch for: How these kids respond to the spotlight will be telling. They are all very skilled and most of them have already proved they can hang with the big boys in the NHL. But can they do it when it is entirely just them? They will be fast, and not overly physical, and expect Sports Center to be filled with their highlight goals.
Who to watch for: The future of the NHL will be fully on display, so take notes. Connor McDavid is the captain and is a once in a generation player. Jack Eichel, drafted just after McDavid last year, is a future leader for the Sabres. This years number one pick, Auston Matthews, already has professional play under his belt as he passed up on Junior Hockey to play for a pro Swiss team (ZSC Lions). On the defense, Shayne Gostisbehere was a finalist for Rookie of the Year last year, Aaron Ekblad already looks like he’s 30, and Seth Jones’ uncle is Donovan McNabb. Oh, and goalie Matt Murray has already lifted the Stanley Cup after he helped the Penguins win it last year.
To say watching Team North America will be fun is an understatement, they will live in die on the fly. The latter still lives to be seen. But no matter the outcome, they will be honing their skills for years to come.
Team Russia is hard to figure out exactly. They are like going to Valentino’s buffet at around 4 in the afternoon; you want the food to be good and fresh, and some of it will, but some of it will leave a bad taste in your mouth if you dare trust in it.
What to watch for: As far as skill goes, Russia may have the most skilled forwards out of anyone in the tournament whose name isn’t Canada. If you get penalized against them, their powerplay has the potential to score at will. Their defense leaves a little to the imagination, but who needs defense when you can score goals in bunches? Goalie wise they have experience and youth that can make a difference. The question will be what happens when they face adversity? If they can take it in stride and move on, they have a chance. If not, they’ll be tossed aside faster then the untouched Val’s pizza at 4:43 PM.
Who to watch for: The “ov’s.” Of the 23 players on team Russia’s roster, 11 of them have their last name end with “ov.” Good luck play by play announcers. Who should you really look for? The Russian snipers: Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Nikita Kucherov. The magic man Pavel Datsyuk, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, and Rookie of the Year Artemi Panarin will look to set up these guys if they want to have a chance to erase the bad tastes of international play out of their own mouths.
So what are you going to do? Hit up that buffet with a chance of cold pizza or wait til it’s fresh and you can find something that you know won’t be stale? There’s a chance at both with this Russia team, so chose wisely.
Team Sweden rounds out the back-end of Group B, but man do they have a fine back-end. Sweden comes into the tournament with the best defensemen in the tournament. What will help prevent them from falling on their back-ends won’t be their defensive play, it will be if they can fill the opposing net with goals.
What to watch for: In their flashy blue and yellow jerseys, you won’t be able to miss them. But the ones to keep your eyes on will be the ones playing defense. This Sweden team may not allow a goal if their defense and goalie play the way they are capable of. Now, that won’t happen, but they shouldn’t give up too much. Their slick defensive play will have to transition itself into offense in order for them to move on. In the 2014 Olympics, the Swedes only put in 2 goals in the final 2 rounds. They did so, however, in a effort that saw them win Silver to Canada.
Who to watch for: To help score goals, look for Filip Forsberg of the Predators to try and make his presence known. But it’s all about the play of the defense. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, a pair with the Tampa Bay Lightning, will join forces with Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Senators and Coyotes as the top 4 of Sweden. If play gets behind them, look for Henrik Lundqvist to keep the puck out of the net.
The defense for the Swedes isn’t in doubt, but their goal scoring could be their Achilles heel. Will they find their scoring ways in what looks to be a tight Group B?
Group A will come down to Canada and USA, with the winner of the game on September 20th taking the group.
Group B will be real close. Like even the coin I flipped to decide who to win landed on its side.
One thing for sure is the entertainment value of this tournament will be unprecedented and you won’t want to miss a moment.
(A1) Canada vs (B2) North America (A2) USA vs (B1) Russia
Canada vs USA