Regular season hockey is only a few weeks away, and to get us ready for it, we've been given a little pre-season tournament called the World Cup of Hockey. Some fans welcomed the third iteration of the tournament, as more hockey is good hockey. Others were more skeptical, concerned that major players would play with little enthusiasm or end up injured, or that this was a way to phase the NHL out of the Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, it's here, and at the point of writing this article, we're coming up to its conclusion. So for those who haven't watched many of the games, here's what you've missed.
Canada is Still Canada
They were the favorites to win, and Canada has proven that point. Canada walked all over their opponents in the group stage, and with a win against Russia in the semifinals, are poised to complete their trophy run. The current Olympic gold medalists are as strong as ever, with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Brent Burns, and a trio of All-Star goalkeepers in Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, and Carey Price. That's not even the entire list of "big names." In fact, the whole team is full of them. Our friends to the North sure know how to skate, and there really hasn't been any reason to doubt that during this tournament.
North America Excites, Europe Impresses
This year's World Cup of Hockey featured two "All-Star" teams: Team North America, an Under-23 representation of both Canada and the United States, and Team Europe, a collection of European skaters not represented by the four qualifying European teams (Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, and Sweeden).
Team North America came out as any young up-and-comer would; with tons of arrogance and lots of flair. They brought energy, excitement, and a thrilling overtime victory . An unreal combination of speed and stick handling, North America showed the world the kind of talent that Johnny Gaudreau, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews are sure to provide for years to come. North America won two of their three group matches, but it was not enough to make it to the elimination rounds. The team won't return to the next World Cup of Hockey, as they (along with Team Europe) are being replaced with a qualifying nation, but their skaters will find themselves comfortably representing the U.S.A and Canada for quite some time.
Team Europe has really been the surprise of the tournament so far. A team only created last year and pinned as being kind of old, Europe was expected to compete, but not to really contend out of the group stage. Their first two preliminary matches reinforced this: a 4-0 thrashing by the hands of North America, followed up by a slightly better offensive performance in a rematch against the young guns, this time losing 7-4. But since then, Europe has played solid hockey and find themselves in the final after another overtime win. While they're not expected to defeat Canada, with the likes of Anze Kopitar and Mats Zuccarello, they might find a way to make things interesting.
Finland Falls Flat, the U.S.A. Disappoints Massively
I'm not sure what was expected of Finland, but I'm sure it wasn't what happened this tournament. The team is by no means weak, with two solid keepers in Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask, as well as two skaters from this past year's Stanley Cup, Joonas Donskoi and Olli Maatta. Finland lost all three of their group matches, and compiled the absolutely worst goal montage of all time. One goal in three games. A forgettable display by the Finns.
Then there's us. Whatever high we may have been feeling from the Miracle on Ice some 30 or so years ago is long gone. Team U.S.A crapped the bed. All over it. The U.S. failed to record a victory in the group stage, and all around looked lost and disjointed.
It's been a rocky road for the United States, a much different story than from six years ago, when the U.S.A were one goal away from snagging the gold medal in Vancouver. Since then, the Stars and Stripes experienced a medal-less bout in the Sochi Olympics, and the embarrassing performance in the past week. The poor result has left a bitter taste in U.S. hockey's mouth; former members and current snubs chimed in on twitter, and fans and columnists were left wondering what could be done to fix the sinking ship. Some suggested that a complete flip of the organization may be necessary, changing personnel and outdated philosophies. It's quite a popular argument really; many believe that U.S. hockey is stuck in the past, focusing on players with "grit" and scrappiness, rather than simply selecting the most skilled skaters in each position. While it might not be the ideal solution, something has to be done if we're to see U.S.A. hockey succeed again internationally.
And the Rest...
For Russia and Sweeden, this year's tournament will have been tough. Both teams hoped to fight for the title, but defeats in the semifinals by Canada and Europe, respectively, may have signaled the end for some of the veterans of the sport. There is no doubt that Pavel Datsyuk, who left the NHL to return to Russia this year, will be ending his career very soon, and the sun could be setting for Henrik Lundqvist, who has been a regular in the net for nearly a decade for the Rangers.
As for the Czech Republic, one win in three will not be very pleasing, but the team can still be happy with their level of competition, outside of their match against Canada, which is not surprising. One win still takes them above two teams in the tournament, so for those with a glass half full, their outing was middling, but could have been worse.