BY ZACHARY CORMIER
The NHL and NHLPA’s World Cup of Hockey is fast approaching and I could not be more conflicted about it.
On one hand, it’s an opportunity to see an Olympic-like tournament that features the best hockey players in the world representing their countries.
On the other, if the NHL and NHLPA-owned event goes well, it will likely mean that it will become the ONLY Olympic-like tournament that features the best hockey players in the world representing their countries.
But I don’t have nearly enough room to rant about the ongoing soap opera that is the Olympic negotiations between the International Ice Hockey Federation, the International Olympic Committee and the NHL on players’ participation at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Mostly because my editors say I’m not allowed to swear in print.
So instead, let’s talk about the World Cup itself, because with pre-tournament exhibition games pretty much wrapped up and the puck set to drop on Saturday in Toronto, I find myself facing a very odd dilemma for an international tournament – I don’t know which team I’m going to cheer for.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Canada and I love the fact that we are unequivocally the top hockey nation in the world.
But I also like to cheer for an underdog when it comes to big events like this one. And if you take a quick glance at Team Canada’s roster, you’ll realize pretty quick that they are about the farthest thing from an underdog that you can get.
I mean, if you’ve got so much depth at centre that you put Brad Marchand on the wing to play with Sidney Crosby on your top line, then I think you’re doing alright.
Canada is good at hockey. It’s just what we do. But at this point, cheering for Team Canada at the WCH would feel like cheering for John Cena or the Chicago Blackhawks. I just can’t do it.
Thankfully, the NHL’s recent penchant for gimmicks in all of their events (let’s play a game of hockey outdoors in California because why the heck not?) has provided a palatable alternative: Team North America.
As much as I scoffed at the idea when the league first announced it, the thought of having a team made up solely of the best NHL players under 23-years-old is brilliant. I mean, Johnny Gaudreau playing with Connor McDavid? Sign me up!
Plus, if you look at the U23 team’s roster, it becomes harder and harder to dismiss them as a gimmick. Many of the team’s marquis players actually represent the future of professional hockey in Canada.
Think about it. Gaudreau is probably the Calgary Flames’ franchise player and will be for years to come. McDavid is going to be the captain of the Edmonton Oilers this year and he’s 19-years-old. Then you have Auston Matthews, who may be the best thing that has happened to Toronto Maple Leafs fans since their memorable playoff run in 2014.
Maybe with him in the lineup they’ll be able to hold on to those 4-1 leads. (Sorry Leafs fans. Couldn’t resist.)
Those three players alone represent the future of nearly half of Canada’s professional hockey teams.
This is a group of some of the most exciting hockey players to set foot on the ice since the Wayne Gretzky era. And after watching them pick apart Team Europe in the pre-tournament games, I’m beginning to think that maybe they’ve got a shot at doing well at this thing.
And I, for one, hope they do. Not only because it would be great to see the future of hockey shine on the world stage, but because it would be funny to watch NHL brass scramble to try and find a national anthem for a team made up of players from both Canada and the U.S.
Who wouldn’t want to watch an anthem singer at centre ice looking confused as he sings 18 ‘Til I Die by Bryan Adams? Now that’s good television right there.