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World Cup of Hockey: Closing Thoughts

The buzz surrounding the World Cup of Hockey — and the expectations coming in for the Canadian squad — ended in triumph for the host nation, as Team Canada swept Team Europe in two games, finalizing the inevitable. The tournament itself was a spectacle, and even 12 years removed from the last international stage, the World Cup of Hockey is here to stay for good.

Before we touch on Jonathan Toews’ exceptional pass, or Crosby’s phenomenal tournament performance, let’s take a step back and rewind before the puck even dropped. With Air Canada Centre waiting in the wings, the NHL & NHLPA decided to kick off the World Cup of Hockey to celebrate Greater Toronto schools and kids, stepping out of the spotlight that was honed in on the tremendous talent taking the ice.

On September 14th, the Air Canada Centre welcomed 9,000 kids from Toronto schools for the Future Goals Showcase, an event that focused on science, technology, engineering and math in the game of hockey, as well as the global impact that the game of hockey entails. Special guests from local legend and President of the Toronto Maple Leafs Brendan Shanahan to Kevin Weekes and Evanka Osmak graced the students with their knowledge of the game and STEM, while also testing their own. Students heard from publicly unknown celebrities like Dan Craig, NHL Senior Director of Facility Operations, who went into the science of your favorite player’s playing surface: The ice. Charlie Marshall introduced the Supponor dasher board technology (yes, that Molson ad during the television broadcast is digital!) in what was informative for everyone in the building. To wrap it all up, the kids enjoyed an All-Star Skills Competition, played by local minor league team, the Toronto Marlboros. The whole time I was there, it made me wonder: Where was this field trip when I was that age?

The game of hockey is exciting, enthralling, and at times, heartbreaking. It’s not often you’re able to feel the joy of your country, or team, finally raise that coveted trophy — if ever. It should also be noted that a good percentage of those kids would have never been able to go to a World Cup of Hockey contest, so for them, this was their trophy. The NHL, NHLPA, and all 30 teams are pulling off some pretty cool things outside of the arena, doing their part in the community and setting up kids for success in the STEM industry with the Future Goals program, while also building the interest in the game of hockey. Now that you’ve learned more about the league and Players’ Association that you may not have otherwise known, how about some hockey?!

Three Champion Studs: Team Canada

Sidney Crosby

This one’s a given, as anybody that has tuned into the World Cup of Hockey, Sportscenter, or just simply knows the English language, understands that Crosby is one of the best in the game. The 29-year-old superstar is still fresh off a Stanley Cup win, and now joins very rare company with his MVP performance in the tournament. Sid the Kid is one of three players in history — Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr are the others — that has the Hart Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy, and the World Cup of Hockey MVP on his mantle. We must say no more, just bask in the greatness and enjoy it, as players like Crosby don’t come around too often. Three goals and seven assists for the stud, which tops the tournament.

Jonathan Toews

Toews may not be the first name mentioned when you’re talking about Team Canada, or even the Blackhawks for that matter, just based off of how much sheer talent surrounds him. The 28-year-old’s game-winning helper is worth 15 views, at least, and also remember that it was shorthanded (and with less than a minute to go!). The 2006 No. 3 pick had “just” five points in the tournament, but boy did he love competing against Team Europe! Toews had two goals and two assists — and a plus-4 rating — in three games. Forget preseason, the World Cup has the center primed for a 60-plus campaign in 2016-17.

Brad Marchand

There was no way Marchand was going to be left out, even if the game-winning tally was his only points of the tournament. The 28-year-old winger took the dish from Toews and buried it to seal the win, leaving no doubt which team was the clear-cut elite of the World Cup. The Bruins star cruised through the cup himself, potting five goals and adding three assists. That shot will be replayed throughout Canada for at least another four years.

Can’t forget about…Carey Price

Is there a better way to come back from a season-ending injury? Price was undefeated in the tournament with an astounding .953 save percentage. The 2005 No. 5 pick was as good as advertised, and if you got him as your No. 1 netminder, buckle up!

Two Studs for Second Place: Team Europe

Jaroslav Halak

Team Canada may have won, but it shouldn’t overshadow Halak’s performance in the tournament. Team Europe was probably not a top choice to make the finals, but the 31-year-old did his best to lead his country to a win. Ultimately, the Canadians are stacked and only Carey Price (and even then, maybe not) could contain such a star-studded cast. The Slovakian finished the tournament with a .943 save percentage and 2.17 GAA (one shutout). The Islanders would welcome that sort of goaltending in 2016-17 with open arms.

Anze Kopitar

Kopitar ended the tournament tied for the most points on the team (4), which doesn’t sound like much, but the team managed to spread the wealth. Zuccarello would be a candidate in this position, but unlike Kopitar, he was unable to produce any points against Team Canada. The 29-year-old picked up four helpers in three games down the stretch, and while he was pointless in Game 2, the winger was a key reason why Team Europe ended up in the final. The Norwegian should have another 60-point campaign with the Rangers in 2016-17.

The World Cup of Hockey was an exceptional stage dominated by the host nation, Canada. The tournament had its disappointments — insert “Team USA” here — and surprises, but overall, I can’t wait until 2020. While I may speak for many fans in my hopes that Team North America is as exciting as they were this year, it’ll be great to see the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel all grown up and ready to represent their country in full. Team Russia may very well have made the final if they didn’t have to come up against the juggernaut that is Team Canada, and side note, Erik Karlsson is definitely still great (the Swedes also had a massive showing at the games, whether their team was playing or not). The Finnish team struggled top to bottom, which made for a tournament to forget. Team Czech Republic beat Team USA in a meaningless contest, but hey, Team Czech Republic beat Team USA. Coming from a guy born in Virginia, 2020 couldn’t come fast enough for a little much-needed redemption.

That’s all for now — or four years — but I hope you enjoyed the World Cup as much as myself and others, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Future Goals initiative, head to FutureGoals.NHL.com.

Cheers!

2016 World Cup of Hockey: Tournament Update

I hope that you’ve enjoyed watching the World Cup of Hockey as much as I have. Those of you that had been pulling for Team USA must be feeling like Homer Simpson in this tweet. In the second edition of this World Cup blog series, I offer my thoughts on the tournament ahead of the Thursday games (Finland vs. Russia; USA vs. Czech Republic).

Group A

Canada

  • Carey Price has rounded into form. After shaking off the rust in a pre-tournament game against Team USA, he’s rattled off three straight wins, two of which counted toward a semifinal berth in the tournament. In Tuesday’s win over the Americans, the Canadians went from allowing 17 shots in the first period to six in the second frame and only two in the third.
  • Oh, hey there, Matt Duchene. When the self-proclaimed die-hard fisherman isn’t catching delicious bass, he can be found tearing it up offensively on the ice. I know this is Canada and the World Cup, but it looks funny seeing the Avs star on the fourth line. Duchene has two goals and an assist in the tournament while skating alongside veteran Joe Thornton and former teammate Ryan O’Reilly, who wasn’t originally on the World Cup roster but added once Tyler Seguin backed out with an injury to his heel.

Europe

  • Team Europe advanced to the semifinal round despite being outmuscled by Canada on Wednesday, losing 4-1. It was a nice test against the tournament favorites, but Europe needs to be much more disciplined. Drawing six penalties, as they did Wednesday, is a recipe for disaster against a team like Canada, which is stacked offensively on every line.
  • Peter Draisaitl, who played for German in the inaugural World Cup (1996), must be one proud papa. His boy Leon already has two goals in the tournament, including a game winner, on four shots. Draisaitl saw his ice time climb from 7:15 against Team USA all the way to 13 minutes in an “away game” against the Czech Republic.
  • Marian Hossa is the second-leading NHL scorer among players involved in the tournament. He misfired on his first five shot attempts but put one on the board Wednesday against Canada. It doesn’t seem like Hossa’s bothered by the foot injury that he sustained in the preliminary round.

Czech Republic

  • Two goals in two games (Jakub Voracek, Martin Hanzal) won’t cut the mustard. They won’t be winning any medals but this tweet from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times regarding the goal song is pure gold.

USA

  • USA has been the biggest disappointment in the World Cup thus far, dropping matches to Team Europe and Canada, respectively. Coach John Tortorella was ridiculed for his decision to bench the physical Dustin Byfuglien in the tournament opener and then sat Brandon Dubinsky, a solid faceoff man and pest to Sidney Crosby, in a forgettable match against the border foes — I’m thinking it’s no coincidence that Torts rested Dubinsky given the Columbus connection.
  • Jonathan Quick saved 44 of 51 shots between the two losses, equating to a 0.863 save mark. He was much better than the numbers indicate, but you have 2016 NHL All-Star Ben Bishop at your disposal. I’m sure neither he nor Cory Schneider came to Toronto expecting to ride the pine for the entire competition. Yeah, maybe one or both of them draw in against Team Czech Republic on Thursday, but it’s too little and too late. USA is toast.

Group B

Sweden

  • King Lundqvist pitched a 36-save shutout against Finland on Tuesday and then blocked 45 shots against the 23-and-under North American team a day later. It’s ridiculous how well conditioned these goalies are as they go on back-to-back days and lay it all out for their respective countries.
  • Nathan MacKinnon of Team North America juked the socks off of Henrik Lundqvist in overtime Wednesday, but the Swedes still earned a point and won Group B for a spot in the semifinals.
  • Sweden’s star-studded defense hasn’t done a whole lot offensively outside of Erik Karlsson and his three helpers. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mattias Ekholm, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are all looking for their first point in the tournament, and Victor Hedman (Vigo from Ghostbusters 2), along with Anton Stralman, are the lone goal scorers from Sweden’s blue line.

Russia

  • Red Wings fans must be stoic watching Pavel Datsyuk shine for Team Russia. His Selkey-smooth defensive style has been on full display, plus he has two helpers in as many games, but the Magic Man reportedly will miss at least one game with an undisclosed injury.
  • Speaking of defense, to the surprise of no one, Russia’s blue line is laughable, though all the goal scoring is keeping the plus-minus ratings respectable for the rearguards. Nikita Zaitsev is the only one to have produced a point between the six d-men. The young Bud excited fans at his home rink with an assist that counted toward a win against Team North America.

Team North America

  • In this context “NA” doesn’t mean not applicable. Rather, it stands for North America, the speedy 23-and-under squad with plenty of heart, determination and skill. Here in the states, it’s the team that everyone is rooting for with Team USA getting shown up. But their fate in the tourney depends on the outcome of Thursday’s matchup between Russia and Finland. If Russia loses in any fashion, there will be more hockey for Team NA.
  • Auston Matthews is already testing the acoustics at the Air Canada Centre, where he’ll suit up as a rookie for the Maple Leafs this season. Skating on the top line with Connor McDreamy (read: McDavid) and Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Matthews has two goals and an assist through three games.

Finland

  • Finland lost its first two games of the tournament, dropping matches to Team North America and rival Sweden, respectively. Valterri Filppula was the only one to find twine for Finland before learning they’d not be able to advance to the semifinal round.
  • Look, Patrik Laine (whose name doesn’t rhyme with Kane) is going to be fun to watch for years to come, but Winnipeg’s second overall pick from this year’s draft has failed to replicate his glory from the 2016 IIHF World Championship, for which he was named MVP. Though he does have a country-high seven shots on goal, he’ll be seeking his first point when Finland battles the Russians on Thursday afternoon.

 

World Cup of Hockey: 2016 Tournament Preview

Twelve years. It’s been that long since the last World Cup of Hockey tournament, with Canada taking down Finland for the rights to the Cup trophy after finishing as the runner up to the United States in the inaugural event of 1996. While the international hockey competition was in hibernation mode, we shed tears over Hurricane Katrina, crazed over the advent of the iPhone, voted in Barack Obama for two Presidential terms, and celebrated the lives of sports legends, including the likes of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe. Despite all the change that naturally comes with passed time, six Canadian players from the winning 2004 squad remain active in the NHL, and two of those original cast members — Jay Bouwmeester (STL) and Joe Thornton (SJ) — will be involved in the competition a second time. The action officially begins Sept. 17 and lasts through Oct. 1, 2016 with Toronto playing host. Judging on exhibition play, one can expect a level of intensity that leaves NHL GMs praying for their players to come out unscathed. Here is a breakdown of the eight teams (countries) involved in the best-on-best, round-robin competition:

Blue Jackets 2016 Draft Review

I very nearly titled this “How the Blue Jackets Screwed Up the 2016 Draft”, but after having done these reviews for their three previous drafts (which you can read here: 2015, 2014 and 2013) I figured I’d stick to the formula.

The Blue Jackets headed into this year’s entry draft both in a good spot and a terrible one. For the first time in franchise history they actually improved in the draft lottery, moving up from the fourth spot to the third in a draft class thought by basically all observers to have a clear top three, but at the same time they were staring at a draft class heavy on wingers (which they already had an abundance of in the organization) and light on potential No. 1 centers (which they need after dealing away Ryan Johansen last year) after Auston Matthews who was locked in as the first overall pick.

In the three-plus years I’ve been covering GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s tenure as Columbus’ GM, some patterns had become clear in his drafting. He likes size (the shortest player he selected last year stood six-foot-one) and he likes players who show some maturity (his picks are littered with players who captained their squads or represented their countries internationally.) All that, combined with their shared Finnish nationality, seemed to point towards the Blue Jackets sprinting to the podium to take six-foot-three World Junior Championships MVP Jesse Puljujarvi with their top pick, right?

NHL Stanley Cup Observations: Sharks FINALLY play with the lead

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • Brent Burns sure was fired up. First, an eff bomb in his live pre-game interview and then a goal a minute-four into the game. Wonder where we’d be if he’d done it a couple games earlier.
  • Martin Jones — arrest the dude for grand larceny. He’s the lynch pin in the Sharks’ game and he’s <beeping> good. 44 saves? He’s the only reason they’re even remotely in this series.