The World Cup of Hockey starts on Saturday, Sept. 17. While pre-tournament games have begun, the xHockeyProducts team is excited for the tournament to begin. That’s why we are breaking down every team and providing the chances every roster has to win it all.
The home of hockey always enters international tournaments as the heavy favorite.
Winners of gold in the past two Winter Games, Canada has medaled in five of the last seven winter contests. In terms of the World Championships, Canada took home gold in each of the last two years after a five-year absence from the medal podium.
After losing the inaugural World Cup to the United States, Team Canada took first place in the 2004 tournament.
Needless to say, Canada is expected to serve as champions again in a few short weeks.
|Group A||Group B|
|Team Canada||Team Finland|
|Team Czech Republic||Team North America|
|Team Europe||Team Russia|
|Team USA||Team Sweden|
|Patrice Bergeron – BOS||Logan Couture – SJS||Jay Bouwmeester – STL||Corey Crawford – CHI|
|Sidney Crosby – PIT||Matt Duchene – COL||Brent Burns – SJS||Braden Holtby – WSH|
|Ryan Getzlaf – ANA||Claude Giroux – PHI||Drew Doughty – LAK||Carey Price – MTL|
|Brad Marchand – BOS||Ryan O’Reilly – BUF||Jake Muzzin – LAK|
|Corey Perry – ANA||Steven Stamkos – TBL||Alex Pietrangelo – STL|
|John Tavares – NYI||Jonathan Toews – CHI||Marc-Edouard Vlasic – SJS|
|Joe Thornton – SJS||Shea Weber – MTL|
Team Canada is the most complete team in the tournament. With snipers at every turn (Claude Giroux, Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos), set-up men to feed them the puck (Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton), defensemen to shut down opponents (Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber) and the goaltending to back everyone up, this is a formidable foe for anyone across the rink.
Faceoffs will be key for Team Canada. The forward group is made up of 11 centers, with four of them finishing in the top 10 of the NHL in faceoff winning percentage last season (Jonathan Toews, 58.6%; Matt Duchene, 57.9%; Giroux, 57.5%; Patrice Bergeron, 57.1%). If the line’s center is thrown out of the draw, another top-flight pivot can hop in and take the draw.
If the opposing team wins the faceoff in the offensive zone, they better capitalize. It likely won’t happen again all game.
The abundance of centers could turn out to be a slight hindrance on offense. With a slew of players used to playing the same position, there could be some bunching up in the offensive zone. However, this issue should resolve itself after the team gets a few games under its belt.
If the coaching staff decides to run with Carey Price in net (which they are expected to do), he could have some bugs to work out of his system. The 2014-15 Vezina and Hart Trophies recipient spent most of last season on injury reserve. The 29-year-old netminder has not played in a contest since Nov. 25. If head coach Mike Babcock is insistent on playing Price, even if he falters, it could prove to be a disservice to his Canadian teammates.
However, all indications are that Price has recovered from his injury. And if he does falter, Plans B and C (Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford) are still solid options.
The only other possible weakness is the left side of the defense. While the right side features Brent Burns, Doughty (the 2015-16 James Norris Trophy winner), Pietrangelo and Weber, the left will see Jay Bouwmeester, Jake Muzzin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Although Vlasic will be discussed in a moment, Bouwmeester, 32, was a questionable decision for Team Canada. He has international experience and has seen all types of players during his time in the NHL.
Muzzin, 27, has developed into a reliable and steady blueliner for the Los Angeles Kings. Nobody questions whether he is worthy of playing in the World Cup, but his name does stick out on a team chalked full of All-Stars. It will be up to him to prove he belongs.
Player to Watch
Similar to Team North America, there really isn’t a bad choice in terms of who to watch. Part of the fun of watching Team Canada will be focusing on their puck movement and ability to read each other on the fly.
However, the San Jose Sharks’ No. 1 defenseman should again prove why he deserves to be in the NHL’s best defensemen discussion. The Sharks’ ability to reach the 2016 Stanley Cup Final was thanks in large part to Vlasic’s contributions. Even after the Sharks lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vlasic ended the playoffs with a league-best plus-14 rating while averaging 23:33 per game. He is a stalwart in his own end and has proven that he can stop any oncoming force.
He and his defensive partner, Burns, are perfect complements to each other. It’s likely they will be paired together throughout the tournament.
What It Will Take to Win
If Team Canada is to meet expectations and win the entire tournament, they will have to stifle team speed across the ice.
On paper, the only teams that seem to be a challenge for Canada will be Team Sweden and Team North America. Both possess high-end skill with extreme speed. With a backline of NHL superstars (for the most part), Team Canada should be able to shut down scoring chances with quick sticks and overpowering board play.
Although Rudy Tomjanovich tells us to never underestimate the heart of a champion, we always seem to. This isn’t the World Junior Championships or the Winter Games; will Team Canada have enough desire to win it all? With the long and grueling NHL season bearing down, any player might find it difficult to want to compete at a high level every night.
The World Cup of Hockey is being played on Canadian soil, let alone Hockey Mecca (as some call Toronto). The desire to win in front of home fans should not be an issue for the All-Star lineup.
Saturday, Sept. 17
Team Czech Republic vs. Team Canada, 8 p.m., ESPNEWS, SN, TVA Sports
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Team Canada vs. Team USA, 8 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Team Europe vs. Team Canada, 8 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports
Feature photo courtesy s.yume| Flickr
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