The pre-tournament World Cup of Hockey matchups concluded on Wednesday night. On Friday, all 8 teams will meet in Toronto to kick off the 2-week long main event.
Hockey’s best players from all around the world are excited to play in this tournament. The 8 teams are all playing for their respective countries, so there will be plenty of emotion among the competitors. All players will be wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and bragging rights will certainly be on the line in the games.
Now that the pre-tournament games have concluded, what is each team facing heading into the tournament? What challenges will each team face? Who will come out on top in each group of teams?
Let’s take a look at the teams in both groups, and analyze what we have seen in the pre-tournament games from them:
The pressure is on for the World Cup of Hockey tournament’s host team. Canada is the favorite to win this tournament because their roster is deep at every position. Anything less than a tournament final appearance is probably considered a bust among most Team Canada fans.
The Canadians were involved in some chippy games with Team USA in the pre-tournament matches. Both teams split a pair of games, although Canada probably looked more impressive considering they outshot the United States by a large margin.
With a stacked roster, Team Canada should go far in the tournament. They will have to overcome the pressure. Team Canada will get the best performances from the teams that they face in this tournament.
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC
Where is the offense going to come from? In 2015-16, the Czech Republic’s highest goal-scoring NHL player was Ondrej Palat, as he had 16 goals with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Czechs have had some tight matchups with Team Russia in the pre-tournament matchups. In order for the Czechs to have good fortunes in this tournament, they will probably have to play in close games. This is a team that is probably not able to score quickly and often, so they will have to keep games close to stay competitive.
Can the veteran defense core of Europe keep up? 5 out of the 7 blueliners for Team Europe are all 30-years of age or older.
In the first two pre-tournament games against speedy North America, Team Europe gave up 11 goals. Europe is filled with many NHL veterans, so facing a young speedy team down the line could present a matchup problem.
Forward Marian Gaborik still has some gas left in the tank, as he scored 2 goals against Team North America in their 2nd meeting. If there is any player Team Europe can rely on to score some clutch goals, Gaborik is very reliable.
This team is probably the feistiest team of the tournament. They will get in your face and hit you along the boards. Team USA is playing with a lot of snarl under John Tortorella, and it seems like the players are enjoying this physical style of hockey.
If Team USA is going to go far in the tournament, Jonathan Quick will be the reason why. He has played well in the pre-tournament games for the United States. If there is a goaltender that can steal some games in this tournament consistently, it is Jonathan Quick. He thrives playing in big games, and his on-ice performances on the biggest stages prove that.
Patrik Laine is something special. The #2 overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft has everyone watching him closely. He is an exciting player, and has a very strong accurate shot.
Laine and young Florida Panthers centre Aleksander Barkov will be the 2 focal points of the Finns team in this tournament. Both players are big and have a lot of skill.
Pekka Rinne has played well for the Finns in the pre-tournament games. The Finns could be a sleeper team in this tournament, because they have a good mix of good young talent and quality veteran leadership.
TEAM NORTH AMERICA
This team is very fun to watch. All of the NHL’s top stars 23-years of age and younger are playing for this team.
There is a ton of speed on this team. With players like Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, Dylan Larkin, and Connor McDavid, they could be one of the quickest teams in the tournament.
There is plenty of youth, but there is also some inexperience. Most of these players are still up-and-coming, and have not hit their full potential at the NHL level yet. Will Todd McLellan be able to get his young team to play like 10-year NHL veterans? If North America can play a smart fast game, they could perform very well in this tournament.
Can the firepower remain consistent? With players like Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeni Malkin, and Nikita Kucherov, this team should have no problem scoring goals.
Can the Russians keep pucks out of their own net? It remains to be seen. Some may argue that the defense core is rather weak on paper. There is a mix of veterans and youth on the Team Russia’s blueline.
The good news for Team Russia is that Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov have played very well in goal. Both of these goaltenders are used to facing a lot of shots with their respective NHL clubs, so they can overcome some defensive holes.
The Swedes performed well in their 2 matchups against the rival Finns. They lost 3-2 in overtime in Helsinki, and defeated the Finns 6-3 in Gothenburg.
The Swedes do not have many flaws in their lineup. The Vancouver Canucks top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Loui Eriksson has showed tremendous chemistry for the Swedes in the pre-tournament games. Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom and Predators forward Filip Forsberg have also performed well in the pre-tournament games.
Sweden is another favorite to win the tournament, but they do not have the same level of pressure that Canada is facing. This could play into their favor, but the Swedes will have to receive great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist in order to go all of the way in the tournament.
By: George Foussekis