2016 World Cup of Hockey brings excitement

Next year, the World Cup of Hockey returns. Today, the schedule was announced. The 2016 World Cup takes place between September 17 to October 1. It’ll feature eight teams- Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Finland, Team Russia, Team Sweden, Team USA, Team Europe and Team North America. There will be round robin play with the preliminary round between Sept. 17-22.

The eight teams will be split into two Groups. Group A features Team Canada, Team Slovakia, Team USA and Team Europe. Team Europe will include top players from birth countries outside the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and Russia. Group B includes Team Czech Republic, Team Finland, Team Sweden and Team North America. North America will feature a combination of top players from Canada and the Unites States who are 23 or younger with the cutoff date Oct. 1, 2016.

The top two finishers in each Group will advance to the semifinals which will take place on Sept 24-25 in a one-game elimination. As they did in 1996, the winners who meet for the final will play a best-of-three series to decide the champion. The games are on Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and Oct. 1 if necessary. All games will be played at Air Canada Centre. Home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Most intriguing is the idea of having a team of young stars 23-or-younger representing North America. Imagine a loaded roster featuring Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel  and possibly 2016 projected first overall pick Auston Matthews. That could be fun. By separating the young players from more established American and Canadian stars, it’s an interesting dynamic that’ll give younger stars the chance to shine.

The European team is also a great idea. Especially for established stars such as Anze Kopitar (Slovenia), Thomas Vanek (Austria) and Mats Zuccarello (Norway). It opens the door for players who haven’t always had the opportunity to play internationally.

This tournament is more complete than two decades ago because it expands on talent from around the world. Exactly what fans want to see. Hockey has grown tremendously. Having the World Cup of Hockey back is exciting. Tickets go on sale Wednesday, Oct. 14 at Ticketmaster.ca. It might be time to get my passport. A trip to Toronto should be worth it.

The only gripe is that every game is at the ACC. In ’96, they had preliminaries at MSG and Philadelphia, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver. The European pool played games Helsinki, Stockholm, Prague and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Of course, back then Germany was one of its participants.

So too was Slovakia. A country that’s produced Zdeno Chara, Marian Gaborik along with former stars Pavol Demitra and Ziggy Palffy. It’s hard to believe Demitra has been gone for four years with the Lokomotiv plane crashing after takeoff killing all 44 players on Sept. 7, 2011. He was quite a accomplished player who had a great NHL career totaling 304 goals and 464 assists for 768 points in 847 games with the Senators, Blues, Kings, Wild and Canucks.

While most observers are looking forward to the World Cup of Hockey, some wonder why it’s necessary. The world’s best participate in the Winter Olympics every four years. However, there’s no guarantee they’ll go to South Korea in 2018. Even with Alex Ovechkin saying he’d participate regardless. Since the NHL sent its best players to the Winter Games in ’98, it’s been a great success giving the game more exposure. It’s increased popularity. Canada has won three gold medals.

The World Cup Of Hockey is coming. Haters gonna hate. It’s a time for celebration for the sport.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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