Take heart hockey fans. While the regular season is still two months away, the mother ship, AKA the NHL, in conjunction with the NHLPA and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), is benevolently bringing us a pre-season hockey fix with the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
August marks that time of year when ardent hockey fans (this reporter included) are suffering through the final weeks of hockey withdrawals and the World Cup of Hockey (WCH) is the fix that we need. The WCH combines 150 of the best players from two continents to form six national and two up and comer all-star teams that will compete in a round robin format tournament in Toronto September 17 – October 1.
Cold War Leaves Happy Hockey Legacy
The WCH’s genesis stems from the Canada Cup – a positive byproduct of the cold war when the Canadians were hungry to establish their hockey dominance over the Soviet Union. The inaugural tournament launched in 1976 and featured all-star teams from six countries or, the “Big Six” — Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Soviet Union, Sweden, and the United States. Team Canada clearly dominated by winning four of the five Canada Cup tournaments during its 1976-1991 tenure but the Soviet Union did deliver them a crushing blow in 1981 when they handily defeated the Canadians 8-1.
Canada Cup Reborn to World Cup of Hockey
After a five-year hiatus, the Canada Cup was retired and replaced by the World Cup of Hockey. The tournament field was expanded from “The Big Six” to also include Germany and Slovakia. The World Cup officials commissioned a new trophy that the United States carried home in the inaugural event. The second WCH occurred in 2004 and finally, in January 2015, the NHL announced a 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament in September 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The WCH will use NHL rules, NHL-sized rinks, and NHL officials. It will also feature:
- The original Big Six countries;
- A regular four-year rotational schedule;
- Two all-star teams – Team Europe and Team North America;
- Player tracking technology;
- Pre-tournament exhibition games; and
- Seven participants from the Washington Capitals.
— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) August 12, 2016
All-Star Teams Featuring Fresh Talent
The two all-star teams – Team North America and Team Europe – have different selection criteria. Team North America is comprised of the best young players from Canada and the United States who are 23 or younger by October 1, 2016. These “young guns” are only available for selection by Team North America and are ineligible to play for either Team Canada or Team USA. Team Europe is comprised of European players, regardless of age, outside of those European countries represented in the tournament (Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, and Sweden). The hope is that both all-star teams will foster the growth and development of hockey players and the overall sport of hockey on both sides of the pond.
On Ice Perspective through Enhanced Player Tracking Technology
One of the most exciting aspects of the tournament is the use of player tracking technology during the tournament games. The NHL will deploy the technology in pucks and in tags that players will wear throughout the tournament. The technologies will provide quantitative data regarding the fast-moving games that will record and report puck and skating speed, puck trajectory, distance pucks and players track and other key data points. These data will allow fans to know exactly what is happening on the ice in real-time.
These technologies are enhanced version of those that the NHL used during the 2015 All-Star weekend in Columbus, Ohio and helped broadcasters communicate the complete picture of what is happening on the ice to fans. The pucks and tags in the WCH are being improved to capture data more frequently to provide more precise readers. Tag designs were also improved to allow better player visibility for the cameras and tracking. While the NHL remains non-committal about future deployment of this technology for the regular NHL season, they do indicate that using the technology in the WCH is part of their ongoing evaluation strategy.
Exciting Pre-Tournament Exhibition Games Across two Continents
The NHL will host twelve WCH exhibition games from September 8-14 at various locations throughout North America and Europe. In fact, the Verizon Center and the Kettler Ice Complex will host Team USA, Team Sweden, Team Europe and Team Finland, who will hold pre-tournament practices and exhibition games in those facilities from September 12 – 15. The teams will square off in two exhibition games on September 13th Team Finland vs. Team USA and September 14th Team Sweden vs. Team Finland. Other cities hosting pre-tournament games include Columbus, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Prague, Gothenburg, Helsinki and Moscow. A complete schedule of pre-tournament exhibition games is here: www.WCHExhibitionSchedule.com
Vast Representation from the Washington Capitals
Perhaps most exciting to NoVa Caps is that eight Washington Capitals players and coach Barry Trotz are representing their homelands in tournament games. Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden), John Carlson (United States), Braden Holtby (Canada), Evgeny Kuznetsov (Russia), Matt Niskanen (United States), Dmitry Orlov (Russia), T.J. Oshie (United States) and Alex Ovechkin (Russia) are all proudly wearing the colors of their countries at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and Trotz is an assistant coach for Team Canada. The tournament marks goaltender and 2016 Vezina Trophy winner Holtby’s first experience officially representing his country, an honor bestowed upon him for the prowess in the net he has demonstrated over the past two seasons.
Competitive Tournament Format Reveals the True World Champion
To identify the rightful hockey champion of the world, the tournament will evenly divide the eight teams into two groups:
- Group A: Teams Canada, Czech Republic, Europe and USA
- Group B: Teams Finland, North America, Russia and Sweden
The groups, using a round-robin tournament style of play will each compete in at least three tournament games. From there, the top two finishers in each group will advance to Semi-final where they will play a single elimination game to determine the group champion. The two group champions will then meet in a best of three series with only one team emerging as world champion.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 2, 2016
Comprehensive WCH Coverage to Keep NoVa Caps Fans Close to the Action
With less than a month before the start of the exhibition games, begin the 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament bridges the gap to start of the NHL’s regular season in October. With two WCH exhibition games at Verizon Center NoVa Caps fans are a one-off from the action and granted reprieve from the hockey desert that we typically endure in July and August. NoVa Caps will provide ongoing coverage through the end of the tournament.
By Stephanie Judge