Unique World Cup format allows ‘more of the very best players’ to participate

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COLUMBUS — It’s official. They’re actually going through with it.

The 2016 World Cup will include six national teams — Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and Finland — plus two other squads, Team Europe and Team North American Youngstars.

It’s a unique format, and one that’s drawn criticism from those who like their international hockey in its purest form — country versus country, just like it’s always been. No Team Europe. No Team North American Youngstars.

But the NHL and NHLPA, the co-organizers of the tournament that will take place September 2016 in Toronto, believe the format will create the best competition, with added intrigue.

“Our objective is to have a tournament as competitive as can be,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

“A North American Youngstars team and a team of the best NHL European players from outside the Big Four European countries enables us to include more of the very best players in the world who might otherwise have been left out of the competition.

“We have concluded that this will provide the most compelling format and the most competitive and entertaining hockey, with great storylines.”

NHLPA chief Don Fehr concurred, predicting the 2016 World Cup would be the “most competitive tournament of its type ever played.”

The fans played a role in all this, too, according to Bettman.

“Of all the alternatives for teams seven and eight, this solution was overwhelmingly the most positive,” he said, citing fan polling in Canada and the United States.

“People are intrigued by this. There are going to be great storylines. But most importantly, these seventh and eighth teams are going to be incredibly competitive.”

That remains to be seen, particularly with regards to the Youngstars team. Hockey may be a young man’s game, but the “23 and under” squad will be decided underdogs.

At any rate, this may be only the beginning when it comes unique tournament formats. According to the Canadian Press, the “NHL’s long-range plan includes a Ryder Cup-style North America vs. Europe series in 2018 and a more expansive 2020 World Cup that could feature North American players with German, English, Irish, Italian or French heritage playing for those countries to grow the game in those nations.”