The World Cup of Hockey just wrapped up their Round Robin Group Stage this past week. The weekend, the four semi-final teams will compete in a single game elimination before the two finalist square off in a best-of-three series. If you haven’t been paying attention, shame on you. Allow me to catch you up on all the action via questions. As always, these are real questions from my brain.
Is this thing actually important?
Yes. It’s the best of the best playing just weeks before the puck drops on the NHL season. It’s a chance for all the top players to represent their country and compete against each other. Of the four major sports in America, hockey is the most diverse when it comes to international representation. The USA always wins at basketball, and we’re so good at football and baseball that they don’t even bother letting us beat up other countries because they value their pride.
It’s a different story in hockey. Canada is the best, but Sweden and Russia are damn good, and the USA is fourth at best. That’s the real reason why so many people in America don’t watch hockey. It’s not because they don’t understand it, it’s because America isn’t the best.
If nothing else, the games are on ESPN. We all know that sports aren’t important unless they are on or covered by ESPN.
Why is this happening before the season? Don’t they already compete in the Olympics? Is this just a gimmick?
That’s a lot of questions at once. My moderator needs to be fired.
It’s happening before the season as an appetizer to the regular season. The top guys aren’t worn out from playing an 82-game schedule plus however many playoff games. They’ve had a few months off and are now ready to compete. You’re going to see a lot of guys benefit from this as well. They don’t have to go across timezones for the games (the tournament is being held in Canada) and playing with or against the absolute best players in the world every night does wonders for a guys confidence and compete level.
Yes, they compete in the Olympics, but the NHL hates the Olympics. They hate stopping their season and sending guys across the world. The players love the Olympics – why wouldn’t they, isn’t the Olympics – but the NHL doesn’t like dealing with logistics of it. That’s a big reason why they brought back the World Cup of Hockey. They wanted to create a best-on-best tournament that they could control.
In a way, yes, but it’s the best possible gimmick. It’s not a cartoon gimmick like, say, Doink The Clown or any other 90’s WWF midcard act. It’s a gimmick that is just an extension of one’s true self, then turned up to 10.
Catch us up on Group Play since you’re a lazy bastard and didn’t even bother to write about this tournament until now. Must be real important.
Listen. Life happens.
Anyway, Group Play went almost as expected. Team Canada dominated, Team Sweden was consistent, Team Russia showed flashes of brilliance, Team USA disappointed, Team North America was really fun, Team
Wait, there was a Team North America and a Team Canada and a Team USA? How the hell does that work?
Team North America was comprised USA and Canada players 23-years and younger. There was also Team Europe, which was comprised of any player not from Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, or Finland.
That sounds dumb.
It wasn’t. It was actually awesome. Team North America was the most exciting team to watch in the tournament, and Team Europe shocked everyone by making it to the semifinals. Sure, we could’ve had Latvia or Slovakia in the tournament, but this tournament was designed to showcase the best players. Sorry, but Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon are better than anyone Team Latvia could’ve played and creating a Team Europe allowed a guy like Anze Kopitar to play alongside Marian Hossa and Leon Draisaitl instead of Jan Mursak. With no disrespect meant to Jan Mursak.
Fine. Just tell me how Team USA did.
How bad did they suck?
They didn’t win a single game in group play.
Oh, that’s pretty sucky.
On the bright side, they managed to score five goals in three games. That was four more goals than Finland scored. So while the USA was bad, they weren’t quite as bad as Team Finland, although we might need a head-to-head match-up to see who embarrasses their country less.
What went wrong for Team USA?
A number of things, but first and foremost, they were poorly constructed.
Dean Lombardi put Team USA together. Lombardi is a smart guy. He’s the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings and they’ve won a couple of Cups during his time as GM. His Kings teams are known for their physical, grinding, defensive play. That works over the course of a NHL season and best-of-seven series. It doesn’t work in a three game format where you’re playing three different teams in four-five days and you need to win at least two of those games if you hope to advance. It also doesn’t work against the best players in the world. It’s easy to wear down one or two stars, forcing a team to count on their role players to step up, but when a team is made up of 18 stars, slowing down one or two simply isn’t going to work.
Lombardi didn’t select offensive dynamos Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel, or Kyle Okposo. He left smooth skating defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Faulk at home. Instead, they went with Justin Abdelkader, Jack Johnson, and Brandon Dubinsky.
It’d be unfair to put all the blame on Lombardi. Head coach John Tortorella made questionable lineup choices with the guys that he did have. The biggest head scratcher came in the opener against Team Europe, when he scratched Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien epitomized what Team USA was trying to accomplish. Grit, skill, toughness, nastiness. Team USA lost that game 3-0.
Tortorella was a very good head coach, but his old school mentality just doesn’t fit in today’s hockey world. And it definitely doesn’t fit in a best-on-best tournament.
Team USA was built for physical play, but you can’t hit what you can’t catch. And they couldn’t catch the speedier, more skilled teams.
It didn’t help that their skill players like Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski, and Zach Parise had one goal between them.
No wonder hockey is dead in America. All our players suck.
In fairness, they were hampered by Team North America. While it’s not a lock that guys like Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Johnny Gaudreau would have made the team (none of them are gritty enough), those are three young players who could be Top 10 guys within the next five years. Matthews and Gaudreau were particularly impressive for Team North America. Team USA is in good hands in the coming years, as long as the next management group realizes that a short best-on-best tournament is far different than a marathon NHL regular season and playoffs.
How come Team Canada didn’t suck if they couldn’t take anyone from Team North America?
That’s just a dumb question.
Fine. Tell me about the teams in the Semifinals.
There’s Canada; the heavy favorites, Sweden; the biggest threat, Russia; the team that always fails, and Europe; the massive underdog. Canada plays Russia while Sweden plays Europe. The winners meet in the finals.
So, Canada vs. Sweden?
It’s looking that way. I can’t imagine Sweden losing to Europe. Europe surprised everyone by beating Team USA, but that victory doesn’t look quite as good in hindsight. Team Sweden is basically everything Team USA wanted to be. A fantastic defensive team backstopped by the best goalie in the league. They can play fast or they can slowly grind you down. Europe just doesn’t have the firepower to match.
Russia vs. Canada is going to be fascinating. It feels like a game Canada will win given Russia’s history of choking in big games and Ovechkin’s history of losing to Crosby, but there’s a lot of skill on Russia up front. The trouble is there defense. I have faith in the Canadian defenders and Carey Price stifling the Russian attack; I have far less faith in the Russia defense and Sergei Bobrovsky stopping Team Canada.
Are you going to keep being lazy or will you write a recap?
I’ll write a recap. Scouts honor.