The 2016 World Cup of Hockey is finally upon us. Televisions, laptops, tablets around the globe soon to be tuned into what should be an incredible display of skill and speed. Eight teams of the best players in the world divided into two divisions of four with the top two in each division advancing to the playoff round. One division, Group A has perennial favourite Canada led by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Shea Weber. Solid contenders from the USA with Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler and Dustin Byfuglien leading the way. Then there is the Czech Republic, led by Jakob Vorachek and Ales Hemsky. Finally team Europe, for the most part the forgotten horse in this race getting its leadership from Anze Kopitar, Zdeno Chara and if healthy Marion Hossa.
The other division, Group B is comprised of Sweden, usually a strong contender in international play and capable of winning any tournament will have the Sedin twins and stud defenceman Erik Karlsson guiding the ship. Always puzzling Russia who never seem to show as well as their roster suggests will have the great eight Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin and Andrei Markov to fuel their engine. Team Finland, with their own young gun Patrick Laine, Mikko Koivu and Pekka Rinne in leading roles are always strong with the ability to win it all and finally the most intriguing team in the tournament Team North America, comprised of young NHL bucks Conner McDavid, Jack Eichel and Aaron Eckblad set to scorch the ice with speed and skill to spare.
While I wouldn’t suggest you run out and gamble your mortgage payment or your childs college fund based on my humble musings here for your perusal are my bold, fearless and likely entirely wrong predictions.
Group A will be won by Canada with the US finishing in second place followed by Czech Republic and Team Europe. Overall team depth and balanced scoring are the keys to Canada taking the group with Carey Price bouncing back from last seasons injury making the big stops when required. Strong physical play combined with the excellent goaltending of Jonathan Quick will factor in the US placing a strong second. The Czech Republic and Team Europe will compete but lack the skill and grit to take out the big boys this time.
Group B will be won by Sweden led by the Vancouver Canucks new top line of Swedish Captain Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and free agent signee Louis Eriksson. I do see Sweden struggling defensively in their own end combined with suddenly suspect goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist but their offence will find a way to carry the day. Team North America with speed to spare and incredible puck moving skill takes second in the group. Conner McDavid, Austin Matthews, Ryan Nugent Hopkins and Shane Gostisbhere leading the charge with hotshot goalie Matt Murray backstopping them into second. Russia and Finland will certainly enjoy highlight moments and offer up a tough challenge but a lack of overall depth will cause them to fall short of their goal.
Playoff game 1 will have Canada playing Team North America (first in Group A vs second in Group B). This is where things get interesting and where my first upset will be found. I boldly or foolishly am seeing a Team North America victory in my crystal ball. A high scoring game 8-6 or 8-7 with the youngsters outgunning the grizzled Canadians. This game becomes Conner McDavids coming out party. Much like Mario Lemieuxs’ in the 1987 Canada Cup. McDavid will take the mantle and title of the worlds best player from the Coal Harbor Kid and hold it for the next decade. This game is the rare specimen of Canada being overwhelmed by waves of speed and skill without finding an answer or pushback. A huge surprise and upset to most but one I can see happening.
Playoff game 2 will pale in comparison to the flash and dash of game 1 but I see Team USA getting by Team Sweden in a 5-3 contest. The physical play of the American bashers led by Ryan Kesler and TJ Oshie combined with the lack of strength on defence and in goal will be too much for the valiant Swedes to overcome.
Which sets us up for an incredible three game series of hard-hitting fast skating awe inspiring hockey between the USA and underdog Team North America. To finish off their stellar tournament Team North America wins the finale 2 games to 1. The next generation of stars becomes too much for the Americans to contain. A display of hockey talent rarely seen by McDavid, Matthews, Gostisbhere, Gaudreau and others show the world they are the stars, not only of tomorrow but of today.
Tournament MVP – Conner McDavid
Scoring Leader – Conner McDavid
Top Goalie – Jonathan Quick
Top Defenceman – Seth Jones
Enjoy the tournament, I think were in for an exciting ride. That’s my view, from the bleacher seats.