The first World Cup of Hockey tournament in 12 years has ended with the trophy going to Team Canada. The tournament proved to be a success, but many lessons were learned in the process: one being that Canada itself is in a league entirely of its own.
There is no matching the talent coming from Team Canada. The leadership group for Canada alone is talented enough that a separate Team Canada could be created. Jonathan Toews is a name that gets tossed around as someone worthy of national captaincy.
By creating a second team, Toews could get that captaincy, and talented players (such as PK Subban and Taylor Hall) who didn’t make Canada’s roster would earn a well-deserved spot playing for their country. Not to mention, a Canada vs. Canada match would be incredible.
Canadian captain Sidney Crosby is proving, yet again, that he is still the best in the world, especially this year as he comes off a Stanley Cup win. He is adding more hardware to his collection by being named MVP of the tournament.
Arguably, all Team U.S.A. proved was that they have a lot of work to do if they ever want to beat Canada. After all, team management stated the team was crafted with the sole intent of beating Canada – it did not happen. Their rough style of play, management team, coaching staff, and decision to leave some key players off their roster – namely Pittsburgh Penguin Phil Kessel – were all criticized.
With the 2020 World Cup still four years away, many decisions have not been made yet in regards of format changes, but one question will remain until they do: will Team North America be included in 2020?
Without a doubt, Team North America was one of, if not, the most exciting part of the World Cup. The premise was to designate any American or Canadian skater under the age of 24 to this team. The team ended up being a fast, talented, unique group of 18-24-year-olds who were all, for the most part, drafted high.
For anyone closely following the rookies and recently drafted players, this team was an absolute dream. 2015 first and second overall picks Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel skated on the same line. Up and coming superstar Auston Matthews got his first taste of playing with the NHL professionals, including some time on McDavid’s line. Jonathan Drouin broke out of a shell he would seemingly spent all last season in, reuniting on the ice with his juniors teammate Nathan MacKinnon. Johnny Gaudreau continued to prove himself, despite tense contract negotiations happening behind the scenes. It is rare to find so much young talent together, wearing the same jersey; it is unlikely that in four years the team will be as stacked as this 2016 squad was.
Team North America started the pre-tournament exhibition games slow with a loss, but came back in a big way with a 7-4 win over Team Europe, followed by a 4-0 shutout against Europe. It was after that game that they lost their top defenseman, 20 year old Aaron Ekblad, to whiplash.
Their 2-1 record did not get them out of the preliminaries, but based on the reception they were given from the start, you would think they won. In a way, it is almost like they did. They represented everything the NHL is slowly evolving to be, a game relying on speed. They played hard against the veterans with added youthfulness in their skill and speed. The age difference stopped mattering; they were playing amazing hockey.
Team North America truly was something special to watch through their three game preliminary schedule. Many people point to their final game against Sweden as being nothing short of thrilling. The game ended in overtime, with MacKinnon scoring to break the tie. MacKinnon’s goal, paired with the beginning few minutes of that game are a perfect example of the type of hockey Team North America played: hard fought and never backing down.
The idea of Team North America may cease to exist in part because many of the players who made this year’s roster will still be under 24 in 2020, and they want a chance to compete for their respective national teams. It makes sense that a player like McDavid would aspire to wear Canada’s sweater. Team USA may have actually done better if Americans like Eichel, Matthews, Gaudreau, and Brandon Saad were representing them instead of North America.
The members of Team North America returned to their respective teams for training camp following their elimination, as the tournament played on without them. Though, it is safe to say that a year from now, maybe two, Team Canada winning the World Cup may become an afterthought. Team North America and the exhilarating hockey they played will not soon be forgotten.