Joey Sykes | The Duquesne Duke
Each year, hockey fans bear witness as some of the world’s best athletes represent their home countries in a variety of international tournaments. Whether it’s the Olympics, the World Juniors or the IIHF World Championship, fans never have an excuse to lay their patriotism to rest. However, the world’s top pro hockey league, the NHL, is on the verge of drastically changing the landscape of international ice hockey competition.
On Jan. 24, NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen announced the NHL would resurrect the World Cup of Hockey for September of 2016, ending the tournament’s 12-year hiatus. With the official announcement of the World Cup’s resurgence, it should come as a concern for hockey fans all around the world.
The first concern comes with the tournament’s strange new format that will disgruntle a few European hockey enthusiasts.
Of course, the nations involved in the eight-team, Toronto-based tournament will include the United States, Canada, and the “big four” European hockey superpowers: Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
To round out the tournament, instead of inviting smaller, elite hockey nations such as Latvia, Switzerland, Slovenia or Slovakia, the NHL decided to impose two “all-star” teams. The first includes the top European players from countries not represented like the ones mentioned, while the other will be composed of the best North American players under the age of 23.
This no doubt angers the fans of countries like Latvia, Slovakia and Switzerland, whose teams are more than capable of holding their own against squads like the United States, Canada and Russia. They’ve certainly shown they can do it in the past.
For instance, Latvia made it to the second round of the Olympic tournament last year in Sochi, Russia where they faced off against the heavily favorite and eventual gold-medal winning Canadian squad. The Latvians, who only had a single NHLer on their roster, held a 1-1 tie through most of the game before they fell 2-1 in the final minutes of the third period. Despite the loss, it still was a marvelous display of courage shown by the Baltic underdog. Now with the World Cup in play, we are seeing these smaller nations get robbed of the chance of pulling off “Miracle on Ice”-esque upsets.
And it’s not just the European fans that get bad news.
There are rumors that the wonderful format that is the Olympic tournament may no longer host NHL players in the future. This means that the World Cup could be the only opportunity for us to see our favorite players duke it out on the world stage.
The NHL and the NHL Player’s Association have spat over this conundrum with the International Olympic Committee for a few years now and we almost saw the elimination of NHL players from the Sochi Games last year. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Rosen last month that “a lot of accommodations were made to pick up expenses to make sure they had the best players” in the Sochi last Olympics, but whatever those expenses were, Daly doubts they will be picked up again when the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics roll around.
With the possibility a NHL-less Olympic ice hockey tournament and a dreaded new World Cup format, the future of top-tier international ice competition looks bleak. Thankfully, the NHL has not eliminated the possibility of reinventing their format for future reincarnations of the World Cup, which might make us believe that this isn’t just a gimmick. Until then, the landscape of the competitive international hockey circuit will be in limbo.