One aspect that was missed during the 2018 Winter Olympics was NHL players representing their respective nations. International hockey is an aspect of the sport that has been missed due to the passion, talent, and storylines that come about due to the nature of players wanting to perform for their country.
After the 2014 Olympics had then New York Islanders’ superstar sidelined for the rest of the season because of an incident in Sochi, the NHL realized the risk of sending their star players to the games. Then Islanders’ GM Garth Snow was someone who spoke out against the IIHF and IOC, wanting to have NHL players, but not willing to compensate for injuries and the impact it could have on their NHL clubs.
However, now in going into the year 2022, roughly 8 years since Sochi in 2014, the NHL has now officially allowed NHL players to represent their country at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
In between that time, the NHL tried to create their own “international” tournament called the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)
The 2016 World Cup of Hockey was an event that was held after the 2015/2016 season, which featured NHL players, as the event was hosted and ran by the NHL.
There was also two gimmick teams, as there was a Team Europe, which consisted of the best NHL European players, minus Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the Czech Republic. The second gimmick team was Team North America, which featured a mixture of players from the United States and Canada, however players had to be 23 or younger.
Every game was also hosted at the Air Canada Center (Now Scotiabank Arena), in Toronto Canada, the arena also is the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The tournament itself had no shortage of storyline as well. One of the most memorable moments of the 2016 WCH would be Auston Matthews scoring his first goal in his future home. Additionally, Team North America, though a gimmick team proved to be an entertaining, high pace, and technically skilled team.
Though the team failed to qualify for the knockout stage, they finished in 5th place as the head to head loss to Russia eliminated them from the tournament.
Fans were upset to see the elimination of this high flying team full of potential, however the entire world knew that there was much more to come from every single player on this U23 roster.
Some of the players part of Team North America that now dominate the league now six years later consist of; Connor McDavid, Seth Jones, Nathan Mackinnon, and Connor Hellyebuyck.
Another unforgettable storyline from the 2016WCH was Team Europe. Comprised of all of the smaller hockey nations, they created a team full of players who played with heart and passion. The team originally looked like a way to get Slovenian LA Kings’ star Anze Kopitar on the ice, however it later showed to be more then that as the “Europeans” made it to the finals of the tournament.
Comprised of players such as Anze Kopitar, Roman Josi, and Tomas Tatar, the team looked more than capable, but on paper weaker then the Canadians, Swedes, and Russians. The team ended up surpassing what most people expected from them, and showed that success can arise from a team full of “misfit toys”.
Another important note of Team Europe was that it foreshadowed the start of Leon Draisaitl’s dominance in the league. Only being age 20 at the time of the tournament, he was the youngest player on Team Europe and even scored two goals.
Another interesting storyline during the 2016 WCH was the poor American performance, and the Phil Kessel situation.
The Americans have always been a capable hockey nation, winning the first World Cup of Hockey in 1996, and a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Though this roster could be considered weaker when compared to Team Canada, superstar Patrick Kane at the time was dominating the league and was looking for international success.
The Americans were also looking for redemption after losing to Canada 1-0 in the semi finals, and then losing 5-0 to Finland in the bronze medal game in Sochi.
But the one thing that the American tournament will be remembered for will always be going winless throughout the tournament, with a 0-3 record, and finishing 7th place.
When the roster was announced, the first two aspects of the team that people noticed was the size, strength, and most importantly the missing Phil Kessel. Kessel just finished winning his first Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had a remarkable 22 points in 24 games. He was in remarkable form and someone a typical hockey fan would expect to be one of the first names on the list. However, he was cut from the roster.
Kessels’ tweet after the elimination of the Americans sent shockwaves across the sports world and left a damaging mark on his reputation with USA hockey. He would never be selected again to play on the men’s national team. But he did go on to win another Stanley Cup the season after this tweet.
In contrast to the failure of the Americans, the 2016 WCH ended up being another success for the Canadians as they lifted another international title with their large array of NHL stars.
Led by Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, and Johnathan Toews, Team Canada looked like the best team on paper, and it did nothing short of live up to expectations. The hosts ended up going undefeated (6-0), and Sidney Crosby demonstrated dominance with his 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in six games.
With NHL players being able to compete in Beijing this winter, the return of the World Cup of Hockey does not look likely.
However the 2016 WCH tournament showed that the NHL is capable of running an international tournament with much success. But the main issue with the WCH is currently the consistency of the tournament. The tournament just is not consistent as it ran in 1996, 2004, and most recently 2016.
What this means is that there is no room to grow the event over a period of time, and there is no consistency to develop and meaning towards it.
Fans of the game will always remember the event as something fun to watch and it even generated the league additional revenue, but without consistency, there is no meaning behind the event.
If the NHL decides to opt into the Olympics, which happens every 4 years, doing the WCH every 4 years (2 year interval with the Olympics) would not be a bad idea of growth of the sport and branding.
Similar to football (soccer), players represent their club every season, but represent their nation (assuming qualification) in a major tournament every 2 years.
Ultimately the 2016 World Cup of Hockey brought about many memories and storylines that are unforgettable, but with the NHL opting into the Olympics, creating their own international tournament, promoting their own brand could also be done to generate more excitement for the sport.