Hockey World Cup captivates international fans

With the upcoming National Hockey League season looming in the distance, fans have an exciting distraction to hold their cravings until then: the 2016 Hockey World Cup. Consisting of eight international teams, the cup promises to deliver exciting competition featuring the best players that the NHL has to offer. The tournament officially begins this Saturday Sept. 17 and ends on Oct. 1. The tournament will use a traditional “two groups of four, round robin” bracket for the group stages, where the top two from each group move to the semifinals. Though the round robin does not officially begin until Saturday, several exhibition games have been played leading up to the start, including two Team Canada versus Team USA games and two Team North America versus Europe games.

The Cup offers a different twist on the participating teams this year. With the exception of some of the best teams in the world—Canada, United States, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic—Teams North America and Europe are new additions to the rivalry.

Team Europe brings in European players who normally wouldn’t get the chance to participate due to their native country being unselected for the field. The team includes players such as defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, forward Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks and goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the New York Islanders.

Team North America also brings an interesting perspective, as all members are from Canada and the U.S., but are also under the age of 23. Some big names include forward Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres, forward Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and goaltender Matt Murray of the 2016 Stanley Cup winning team Pittsburgh Penguins.

The groups are somewhat easy to predict in terms of who will move onto the semifinals. Some people envision semifinalists will include Canada, U.S., Europe and the Czech Republic, while others predict Finland, Sweden, North America and Russia.

The former will most likely see Canada moving on with a potential 3-0, as they are the favorites this year in the Cup. Team USA is likely to take second, but do have a chance to pull the upset against their longtime rivals, Team Canada. These two teams have played each other twice, coming out with a 1-1 record. USA took the first game 4-2, while Canada bounced back for game two and took it 5-2 in what were fast paced, heavy-hitting games that lead to a fair amount of penalties and brawls.

The latter took a different viewpoint coming into the tournament, with all four predicted teams in contention, but the exhibition games have shown a clear separation between the young Team North America and the rest of the field. Beating out Team Europe twice—the first time 4-0 and the second 7-4—they ultimately fell to the Czech Republic 3-2 on Wednesday Sept. 14.

Although their inexperience does show later into their game with a noticeable drop in activity from period to period, strong starts like Sunday Sept. 11’s 5-1 first period against Europe may be all that’s needed to keep them advancing through the tournament. Behind Team North America, it’s a toss-up between the other three as for who will take second, as Russia, Finland and Sweden are all capable teams.

No matter what, this year’s World Cup promises some thrilling games and rivalries that will hold over die-hard hockey fans for the last month until the NHL season kicks up again. Though it’s very early to tell—having only seen preliminary exhibitions—a favorite opinion among fans has a finals match between Team Canada and Team North America, as long as they continue to skate on all cylinders.