National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman is usually all hype when it comes to talking about his league, but this time he’s not exaggerating.
“We believe the World Cup of Hockey will be the best international hockey tournament ever staged,” said Bettman.
Just because the hockey season in Canada doesn’t last long enough, the NHL and the NHL Players Association have teamed up for the World Cup of Hockey, set to run the last two weeks of September in Toronto.
The World Cup should be everything Bettman says it will be. The best teams in the world. The best players.
Not only will the world’s six major hockey countries — Canada, Russia, U.S., Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic — be represented by its most skilled players, the field will have two other teams — North America, a kids team made up of Canadians and Americans 23-and-under; and Team Europe, consisting of players from various countries not among the world powers.
Canada, with Sidney Crosby, Carey Price and Jonathan Toews the headliners, will likely be favoured, but the U.S. with Patrick Kane, the Russians with Alex Ovechkin, the Swedes with Erik Karlsson; the Czechs with Tomas Plekanec and the Finns with Pekka Rinne will offer stiff competition.
But it will be super easy for hockey fans in North America to root for the kids — the 23-and-under squad featuring the likes of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Sean Monahan, to name but four.
In fact, that North American team vs. either Canada or the U.S. for the gold medal is not a far-fetched scenario.
Many of the Canadian players are vets — with at least three of them (Crosby, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns) coming off a Stanley Cup final that will have a mid-June finish, giving that exhausted trio just enough time off to wash their underwear and play two rounds of golf before gathering in Toronto for the World Cup. Their enthusiasm level might be a tad lower than the kids, who will have a lot to prove, not to mention a lot of energy.
The 82-game NHL season can get boring, and the playoffs are often defensive snorefests, so perhaps a hockey tournament with national pride at stake will bring out the best.
Hockey fans around the world will be paying close attention to this tournament, an event even better than Olympic hockey, because this field won’t be saddled with bottom feeders such as Switzerland, Latvia, Austria and Slovenia.
Toronto, during the last two weeks of September, could be the place to be and if the Blue Jays are in a heated pennant race at the same time, it will be a sports fan’s bonanza.
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* Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald: The Pittsburgh Pirates concession stands unveiled a hot dog covered in Cracker Jack, macaroni and cheese and caramel sauce. How did they forget the cigarettes?
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