The puck drops for the opening game of the World Cup of Hockey this Saturday.
As excited as I want to be to watch WCOH 2016, I am certain that it will not measure up to the great international hockey tournaments of all-time.
The 1987 Canada Cup Semifinal, Canada Vs. Czechoslovakia.
I was 8 years old when this game took place. My dad recorded it for me so I could watch it the next morning.
One moment in this game is burned into my brain and captivated my attention beyond any hockey play I had ever seen before.
Team Canada trailed in the game early on thanks in large part to the superb goaltending of Dominik Hasek. In an effort to change the pace of the game Team Canada started to assert its physical presence.
Then, Claude Lemieux made the play that literally left me wide-eyed. My finger immediately went to the remote to rewind and re-watch it just to make sure it had actually happened. (GIFs and the internet were not available yet.)
C. Lemieux skated right through Hasek’s blind side and sucker-punched him in the head.
Up to that point in my young life I had never seen a player get away with such a brutal cheap shot.
Claude Lemieux may have been a perpetual bully, but he reserved his special brand of historic thuggery for big moments. (Also see Avalanche Vs. Red wings, Game 6 of 1996 Western Conference Finals).
This moment in the game signified that Team Canada was going to do everything possible to win. It was too important to their national fan base not to push the limits (and in this case blatantly cross them) to gain the advantage.
Additionally, the Czechoslovakian team wanted the upset victory enough not to retaliate and risk putting an all-future-hall-of-fame power play on the ice.
Passion oozed out of this game, culminating in an inevitable Team Canada comeback, which sounded like this:
Coffey to Gretzky to Bourque to Lemieux…he scores!
It was the most intense hockey game I had ever seen. The final series between Canada and the USSR would become the greatest international hockey series ever played. All three games ended in 6-5 scores, two going to overtime. The series clinching tally was recored by Super Mario on a feed from the Great One.
The success of the 1991 Canada Cup all North American final, Canada v. USA, gave way to the event assuming the more global moniker of “World Cup of Hockey.”
There was also the ominous problem that someone actually did try to steal the Canada Cup. In the late 90s it was discovered that Alan Eagleson, the primary organizer of the Canada Cup and Summit Series, embezzled the majority of the profits from the first five Canada Cup tournaments.
The inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 was the NHL’s official marketing stamp on its efforts to take over major international competition.
WCOH 1996 was a resounding success for the NHL as Team USA surprisingly bested the Canadians 2 to 1 in the championship series.
The admission of NHL players into the Nagano Olympics marked the end of the World Cup.
The move away from an NHL orchestrated tournament was clearly done in preparation for the 2002 Salt Lake City games. Team USA’s arrival as a hockey super power represented an opportunity to finally focus significant numbers of Americans on the NHL product.
Pressure from the NHL players, the favorable response from fans, and the success of the 2010 Vancouver Games kept the NHL engaged in the Olympics through the most recent Winter Games in Sochi in 2014.
The pace of the on ice competition in Sochi was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Canada’s relentless fast paced offense met by Team USA’s desperate defense and goaltending resulted in the most interesting 1-0 game I have ever watched.
International hockey had never been healthier. Games being played outside of North America and occurring at less than optimal Americentric TV times did nothing to diminish the quality of the hockey.
The NHL’s major gripe, besides the TV schedule, with Olympic participation has always been the requisite 2-week league shut down. Although, this might inhibit the NHL owners’ immediate income generating efforts, it provides some very clear benefits for competition and the growth of the sport.
The Gold Medal Game in hockey is the climax of the Winter Olympics and should be exactly what the NHL wants!
Alas, it’s not enough. The Olympic Games don’t fit the NHL owners’ every desire, and they don’t guarantee a North American friendly outcome.
So… it’s time to bring back the World Cup. That doesn’t sound too bad, right?
Doughty to Crosby to McDavid! … Wait…McDavid’s not on the team. WTF?
The most heralded Canadian superstar since Sidney Crosby will don the crest of Team North America and not Team Canada!
Ok … How about Suter to Kane to Eichel?…Sorry, we won’t be seeing that either.
The NHL has created a Team North America that is comprised of the best available players from Canada and the US under the age of 23.
Fabricated Team North America deprives Team USA of two of the most anticipated American talents ever: Jack Eichel and 2016 1st overall NHL Draft pick Austin Matthews.
Taking these two players off Team USA is like assembling Team Russia in 2006 without Ovechkin and Malkin.
That sounds absurd, because it is!
What story line is the NHL going for here?
Instead of Your Best Vs. Our Best, time tested and almost always compelling, we get Young Guys Vs. Old Guys.
This sounds more like the WWE than a major sporting event deserving of respect and engagement from audiences worldwide.
If that isn’t bad enough, the NHL has also fabricated another team.
Introducing Team Europe!
No Mike Milbury… Not Eurotrash, Europe.
Any European player deemed worthy of a World Cup roster spot and who’s country was not deemed worthy of World Cup competition is placed on the Team Europe roster.
I love NHL hockey, but there are three huge problems with their WCOH 2016:
The format dilutes the talent pool of two of the top teams, USA and Canada.
The tournament fails to include the larger international hockey community that exists outside the NHL.
Fabricated teams rob the event of the rivalry allure that a true “World’s Best” event thrives on.
The intensity of the 1st 2106 pre-tournament game between USA and Canada bordered on that of playoff hockey. Meanwhile the match-up between Team NA and Team Europe was an unwatchable display of glorified no-check hockey.
I’m not knocking the players on these teams. They have a whole season of NHL hockey ahead of them. How can we expect them to manufacture the same passion as players who get to wear their national sweaters?
Why not allow the underdog nations of Germany, Slovakia, or Latvia an opportunity to play and knock off a hockey superpower on the world stage? That worked pretty well in the past…1980 Miracle on Ice?
Instead of growing a new audience, WCOH 2016 waters down international hockey for a pre-existing fan base.
The great international hockey tournaments that have preceded WCOH 2016 were built on worldwide inclusion. They included the top European competitors at a time when the NHL was almost exclusively made up of Canadian born athletes.
Alan Eagleson may have been more focused on fraudulently increasing his own wealth than growing hockey. However, the tournaments he created are massive landmarks on the map of hockey history.
WCOH 2016 could have easily been constructed in the mold of those monumental hockey events.
In comparison WCOH 2016 seems like a fraud.
Bring back the Canada Cup of my youth!
Keep NHL players in the Olympics!
Elite international hockey tournaments are sacred ground, contributing to the growth of the sport and of its audience.
WCOH 2016 takes a step backward.
What do you think of the WCOH 2016? Will you watch all of the games?
Comment below with your take.
The best comments will win a free Puck Off® bottle opener.
You can use it to crack your brews or to throw at Mike Milbury every time he insults an entire continent.
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