World Cup Of Hockey 2004 Preview
folks, the most anticipated tournament since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics is
upon us. The second ever World Cup Of Hockey, which was derived from the former
Canada Cup tournament, will be played on North American soil and will showcase
the world’s best, and who better to be front and centre than the best of the
best, the superstars we see night in and night out during the winter months in
was originally planned as an event happening every four years has taken eight
years for us to see another tournament materialize, thanks mostly in part to the
NHL taking part in the Winter Olympics in Nagano and Salt Lake City.
think the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are intense, wait until you see this. Eight
world teams will be showcased, every one of them with a legitimate shot at the
Cup which very eerily resembles the NHL’s “Holy Grail” (although designer Frank
Gehry will beg to differ).
United States are the defending champions from the very first World Cup of
Hockey in 1996, and they should be at least a sure shot for the semifinals, as
should be the team they defeated, Canada. While Canada got their revenge in
2002 in Utah, you know there’s still a lot of unfinished business here, and
don’t be at all surprised to see the storied rivalry lock horns again. I’m not
just talking exhibition or round robin here (although the exhibition game I saw
had the atmosphere of a playoff game). This time it’s personal.
tournament itself will consist of two divisions of four teams: The North
American (NA) division, which will consist of Canada, the U.S.A., Russia, and
Slovakia; and the European (EU) division, made up of the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and
Sweden. As is the case in every international tournament, every team will play
a round robin against teams in their own division to determine seeding for the
quarterfinals. From here it will be a winner take all elimination grudge
match. After the quarterfinal matches, the teams will crossover divisions for
the semifinals, which would enable two teams from the same division to play in
the final, should it end up that way. This was how Canada was able to play
against the U.S. in the last World Cup. The first place overall team will
actually get a bye to the semi-finals, leaving the other seven teams to duke it
out. Have I mentioned this will be a great tournament?
During the preliminary round robin, the NA games will be played in Montreal,
Toronto, and St. Paul,
Minnesota, and the EU games will be played overseas, naturally, at various
venues in Finland, Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Canadian training
camps and three exhibition games are held in Ottawa, and the U.S. plays a few
games in Columbus, Ohio.
about to witness some of the best hockey the world has to offer, and unless the
NHL and NHLPA get their act together before the final game on September 14th,
something which doesn’t appear likely to happen at this stage, it may end up
being the only hockey we see all year. So sit back, enjoy, and may the best
not only won the Gold at the Salt Lake City Olympics, but they’ve also won back
to back World Championships, thanks mostly in part to “Captain Canuck”, Edmonton
Oilers forward Ryan Smyth. He would be the first to tell you he’d rather have
played for the Stanley Cup these past couple of years, but a Gold Medal two
years in a row at one of the hardest tournaments to win is certainly not chopped
liver. When the preliminary rosters were announced, he was a lock to be on this
team, although he clearly won’t have anywhere near as big a role as he played at
the last two World tournaments.
took the most part of last season off to repair an ailing hip, and from what
I’ve seen so far in practice and exhibition action, is as ready as he’s ever
going to be. Probably the biggest story going into this tournament is the
reunion of Lemieux and Gretzky, arguably two of the greatest players ever. Of
course Gretzky is no longer playing, but his hockey sense and love for the game
made him a natural selection as executive director of this team. With Lemieux
healthy, it was only fitting he be named captain of this team.
team in this tournament is without players who would have played had they not
been injured, and Canada is no exception. Already without “the two towers” Rob
Blake and Chris Pronger on defense, and workhorse Steve Yzerman at centre,
goaltender Ed Belfour also dropped out of the tournament to have surgery on his
ailing back (which by the way was deemed a successful procedure, which means
Eddie the Eagle will make a full recovery). Does this stop the country who
invented hockey? No way! With arguably the most depth of any team in the
world, Canada quickly replaced all of these players with the likes of Jay
Bouwmeester, Scott Hannan, Vincent Lecavalier and Jose Theodore, all of which
have already played a big role for Canada in the early going. So far Lecavalier
has seen action alongside Mario and I have to tell you, it is amazing what these
two players can do.
Canada is strongest in goal,
with three time Stanley Cup winner and Olympic Gold Medalist Martin Brodeur
leading the pack, along with this year’s World Champion Roberto Luongo, and Jose
Theodore replaces the injured Belfour. All three have played very well so far
in exhibition play, and the Canadian coaching staff should feel comfortable
putting either one of them between the pipes.
Colorado Avalanche veteran Adam Foote played at the last World Cup in ’96 , as
well as in Nagano and Salt Lake City. Ed Jovanovski, Eric Brewer and Scott
Niedermayer also make their return to an always strong blue line. Calgary
Flames’ Robyn Regehr joins Team Canada for the first time, and deserves to be
here given his performance in the NHL playoffs. Wade Redden of the Ottawa
Senators finally makes it on the Canadian roster, something which has eluded him
for the past three tournaments.
is icing an all star lineup, with the likes of the aforementioned Lemieux,
Lecavalier, and the Tampa Bay connection of Martin St.
Louis and Brad Richards. Returning from the Olympics are Jarome Iginla, Joe
Sakic, previously mentioned Ryan Smyth, and Simon Gagne. Team Canada has
clearly decided to go with more youth and speed this time around, as they bring
San Jose star Patrick Marleau into the fold, along with Phoenix Coyotes’ Shane
Doan, and Dallas Stars’ Brenden Morrow. Some new NHL veterans also join the
team this time around. Joe Thornton of the Boston Bruins finally makes the
team, as does Selke trophy winner Kirk Maltby of the Detroit Red Wings.
the results of a veteran/youth mix have been astounding. Both in practice and
exhibition, these players are fast, and even though they haven’t played all
summer, they are getting it together at the right time and you can see the
chemistry and skill on the ice. This will be the team to beat in this
tournament, by far, with their American counterparts coming a very close second
(more to come).
old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and not only does Gretzky
return as the big boss, so too does head coach Pat Quinn with assistants Jacques
Martin and Ken Hitchcock. You can be sure the NHL rivalries will take a back
seat here as Canada looks to remain on top, not only at the coaching level but amongst the
players (Iginla vs. Lecavalier comes to mind).
1st in division, 1st overall – I’ll go out on a limb and
say Canada should win this whole thing. Whether or not they will remains
to be seen.
the biggest story all summer hasn’t so much been who’s playing for
Russia, but who isn’t playing. Some big names like Khabibulin, Fedorov, Bure,
Kovalev, Mogilny, Zhamnov, and Zhitnik, just to name a few, all voiced their
disinterest in playing for the team. The decision seems to be based on what the
players felt is a mismanaged team. The decision not to place recently retired
Igor Larionov in a managerial role didn’t go over well, and then there was
controversy on who would actually coach the team, legendary Viktor Tikhonov, or
Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. The powers that be finally went with the latter. Then,
the selection committee didn’t even release a primary roster until almost a week
after the May deadline, leaving more than a handful of players concerned over
whether or not they’d have enough time to obtain a work visa!
all is not lost. If you base your assessment of the Russian team solely on the
names who won’t be there, then you’re being very silly. One look at the roster
tells you this will not be your average amateur team. There is still more than
enough talent to go around, and if they get it together at the right time,
Russia could end up the biggest surprise of this tournament.
Don’t believe me? Look at some of the names.
Nabokov, he’s not the “Bulin Wall”, but he did take San Jose to six games in the
Western Conference final, not to mention his team beat the likes of Colorado and
St. Louis. Unfortunately for Russia, he will only play if absolutely necessary,
as he is recovering from a knee injury which he just had surgery on in June.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks prospect Ilya Bryzgalov, who spent last season in
Cincinatti, and Alexander Formichev of Sibir Novosibirsk will battle for the
starting job. Bryzgalov is expected to back up Jean-Sebastian Giguere going
forward, given the Martin Gerber trade to Carolina, so this will be his chance
to show the Ducks as well as the rest of the World what he can do.
defense, you’ve got Sergei Gonchar, Anton Volchenkov, Darius Kasparaitis, Dmitri
Kalinin, and Oleg Tverdovsky.
Russians will showcase some of the most exciting young forwards playing the game
today, names like Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Maxim Afinogenov, Oleg Kvasha,
and this year’s first round draft pick Alexander Ovechkin. Surrounding them
will be veterans Sergei Samsonov and Alexei Yashin. I’m really looking forward
to watching the kid Ovechkin play, as he’s received more accolades than the
likes of Pavel Bure or even the legendary Sergei Makarov.
they compete with Canada and the U.S.A.? For sure, but they will have to bring
their A game every night (as will Canada and the U.S.A.!).
3rd in division, a dark horse sleeper pick if ever there was one.
is the biggest question mark for the Slovaks. Who are these guys? Jan Lasak,
product of the Nashville Predators, has literally stood on his head during
exhibition action. He was denied a shutout versus Canada in a 2-2 draw but shut
the door in overtime, and the very next night mirrored Ilya Bryzgalov of Russia
in a goose egg tie. There’s no question he’ll be the number one guy. And it’s
a good thing too, because the other two goalies are relatively unknown. Peter
Budaj and Radislav Stana are a year or two away from seeing any real action in
Colorado or Washington respectively, but if they get a shot in this tournament
could speed up the process just a little bit.
The team seems to be just fine on paper when it comes to defense and
forwards. In fact, we may as well just call this team the Ottawa Senators, as
they are the most prominent folks here, led by the “Z” man Zdeno Chara, “#18”
Marian Hossa, and Peter Bondra. Unfortunately Bondra broke his wrist, so he
will not play. No worries, though, as Slovakia has some exciting veteran
forwards in Miroslav Satan, Marian Gaborik, Josef Stumpel, Vladimir Orszagh,
Pavol Demitra, and Richard Zednik.
If you were to take Chara out of the fold, the Slovak defense would be
mediocre at best. They do have Phoenix’ Radoslav Suchy, Los Angeles’ Lubomir
Visnovsky, and Pittsburgh’s Martin Strbak, but experience is lacking outside of
these four. So far it hasn’t been an issue, though, as the goaltending has been
there. Slovakia shouldn’t have any problem scoring, but will need Lasak to
continue his heroics between the pipes if they have any hope of advancing past
round robin play. As far as I’m concerned it just isn’t going to happen.
4th in division.
previously mentioned, the Americans are the defending World Cup champions, and
one has to believe they are poised to repeat (or so they think). Not so fast
though. There are seven other teams who will want a say before all is
said and done.
Canada, team U.S.A. is made up of NHL All Stars, all of which are prominent
household name players. However, one observation I’ve not only heard but
witnessed first hand, is the Americans may have “too many cooks”, meaning too
many so called veterans and not enough youth, and the youth they do have are all
playing the wrong positions.
illustrate what I mean, let’s start in goal. Unfortunately for the U.S.A., 1996
Tournament MVP Mike Richter has retired, as has John Vanbiesbrouck. Robert
Esche, who clearly should be the #1 choice between the pipes, is certainly on a
hot streak from this past spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but has won nothing.
Ty Conklin has been to the Calder Cup final but never won. Where this will lead
the U.S.A. is going to depend primarily on what the rest of the team does on the
ice, starting on defense. The strategy for most opponents will be simple, get
to the defense and go mano-et-mano with the goalie. All I know is Conklin will
have to react faster than he did against Mario and Lecavalier. Rick DiPietro is
the other goalie for the Americans, and he has played well, posting an
exhibition shutout against Russia. Esche and DiPietro will most likely be the
one-two punch for the U.S.A. Coach Ron Wilson will do everything he can to
direct attention away from the Americans’ lack of experience in goal, but let’s
be honest, it sticks out like a sore thumb, and every team in the tournament is
aware of it.
focus for Team U.S.A. seems to be on defense and offense. Where I mentioned the
experience in net is lacking, this is not a problem in other positions. Brian
Leetch, Aaron Miller, Chris Chelios, Ken Klee, Brian Rafalski, and Eric Weinrich
are the cornerstone of any successful defense, it’s the offense where they seem
to have more than enough to go around, maybe too much. Tony Amonte, Bill
Guerin, Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Keith Tkachuk, and Doug Weight all return from
past U.S.A. teams. Missing is Jeremy Roenick, who seems more interested in
gambling if you believe all the latest reports on him. I’m one to give the
benefit of the doubt, and believe he decided to get some much needed rest. New
to Team U.S.A. will be Jason Blake and Craig Conroy. Both will add size and
U.S. added some youth to the team, but it’s not distributed throughout. The
majority of players are over the age of 30, and as the tournament wears on, you
have to think this will work to their opponents’ advantage. The addition of
John-Michael Liles and Paul Martin on defense to replace the injured Hal Gill
and Jordan Leopold will help, but these are defensemen, not forwards. Whether
they can sustain speed and keep up with the opposition will remain to be seen.
observation I’ve made about this U.S. squad is they need to be much more
disciplined than they were during exhibition play. They played two of their
three games against Canada, and will play against them at least once more before
all is said and done. Sure, there is no love lost between these two teams, but
the Americans will not survive past round robin play if they can’t keep their
sticks on the ice where they belong, mark my words.
Everyone seems to be expecting the U.S.A.-Canada rematch, and all
indications are this could end up reality, but this is a tough tournament to
win, so don’t print the program just yet.
2nd in division, the road to a second straight World Cup will be
all take a moment of silence to reflect on the life of Ivan Hlinka, the
legendary Czech coach who passed away suddenly on August 16th after
crashing his car. Hlinka has been compared by many to USA’s mastermind Herb
the tournament must go on, replacing Hlinka behind the bench will be Vladimir
Ruzicka, a former NHL player in Edmonton,
Boston and Ottawa. He was
captain of the 1998 Gold Medal winning team at the Nagano Olympics, and retired
as a player shortly thereafter.
major difference this time around is the Czechs won’t have Dominik Hasek in net,
as he is gearing up for the NHL season (provided there is one), and now they
won’t even have his new Ottawa team mate Martin Prusek either, as he nurses a
hip injury. Tomas Vokoun of the Nashville Predators seems the logical choice to
start the tournament, but Roman Cechmanek is no slouch either. The only problem
is, neither one of them have experience at this level of competition. Vokoun
showed some promise in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, while Cechmanek
has never been past the second round. Replacing Prusek’s roster spot will be
Petr Briza of the Czech Elite league.
Czech Republic have as good a defense as any team in the tournament, with many
of the NHL’s everyday players represented. Names like Roman Hamrlik, Martin
Skoula, Jiri Slegr, Jaroslav Spacek, Jiri Fischer, Tomas Kaberle and Marek Malik.
front, the skill level is impeccable, with Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk, Jaromir
Jagr, Vaclav Prospal, Patrik Elias, and Radek Dvorak, to name a few. These
players can make the nightly highlight reels all by themselves, now they’ll be
playing together. Fans in Los Angeles might remember forward Tomas Vlasak, a
former fifth round draft pick in 1993. He only played in 10 NHL games during
the 2000-01 season, but has been a star in the Czech, Finnish and Russian elite
Vokoun was appalled by what happened in Prague this past spring during the World
Championships, and is determined to do all he can to help his team redeem
itself. You may recall the Czech team finished first overall in round robin
play, a perfect 5-0, only to lose in a shootout to the Americans in the
quarterfinals. When asked about his team’s chances, he had this to say: “Hockey
is No. 1 sport in our country. It's like
Canada. We've had some big successes
(winning the 1998 Olympic gold, for example) and we have over 60 players in the
NHL and we are only a country of 10 million people. That's a big achievement.”
2nd in division
Calgary Flames’ goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff picks up where he left off in the
Stanley Cup Playoffs, then everybody is in big trouble. You can make a safe bet
that winning his recent arbitration case against Calgary to the tune of $2.95
million will have him pumped up more than any goaltender in the tournament.
Then again, this tournament is not about the money, it’s about national pride.
He made most Canadian Hockey fans proud this past spring, and will be looking to
give fans at home in Finland something to cheer about.
Should “Kipper” not be able to get it done, his backups are equally as
capable. Kari Lehtonen is the future of goaltending in Atlanta, and Vesa
Toskala of San Jose was the main reason the Sharks were able to part with
Kiprusoff in the first place. The Finns have arguably the second strongest
goaltending tandem in the tournament (behind Canada), and if either one of them
gets on a roll, look out. Coach Raimo Summanen clearly knows this, stating “We
have great goaltending and they will carry us. We will rely heavily on them.”
isn’t to say they can win this tournament with their eyes closed. They will
need their capable defense and offense to carry the load. There is no shortage
of talent on this team, as the likes of Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen,
Saku Koivu along with brother Mikko Koivu, Jere Lehtinen, and Teppo Numminen
will all be counted on to hold the fort. Tuomo Ruutu, the big story in Chicago
last season, will have a chance to strut his stuff on the international stage.
of the Vancouver Canucks, Ossi Vaananen of the Colorado Avalanche, and Kimmo
Timonen of the Nashville Predators will be expected to guard the blue line with
Numminen. They’ll have a lot of help with Calgary’s Toni Lydman, Islanders’
Janne Niinimaa, Philadelphia’s Joni Pitkanen, and Toronto’s Aki-Petteri Berg.
has often been touted as the European equivalent to Canada or the U.S.A. They
certainly have enough depth to get it done, maybe not as much as Sweden or the
Czechs, but they will be tough.
3rd in division
has always iced a competitive team, and it’s only a matter of time before they
pull off the ultimate upset. Just don’t look for it to happen during the World
Cup. Coach Franz Reindl knows it too, but says don’t expect his team to roll
over and play dead.
just squeeze out the very best from us in every game and we’ll see how it ends.”
players know they’ve been labeled underdogs of this tournament, they sure have a
weird way of showing it. They gave the Russian team all they could handle in a
3-3 tie, were routed 7-4 by the Czechs (in what I understand was a very
entertaining game), and lost late to Finland 4-2. Every team should be able to
look back to the World Cup of 1996, not to mention the Olympics in 2002 and be
wary of what this team of virtual nobodies can do.
look for too many NHL stars on this team. The bulk of talent will come from
Germany’s national leagues. In goal, look for a battle between Washington
Capitals’ Olaf Kolzig and veteran Robert Muller, a fixture on the team long
before Kolzig came along. You’ll recognize forwards Marco Sturm and Marcel Goc
of the San Jose Sharks, not to mention defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, and Ottawa
Senators prospect Christoph Schubert. Fans of the Philadelphia Flyers/Phantoms
will recognize defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, and Buffalo Sabres fans will know
Jochen Hecht. Of interest to Czech Republic fans will be the presence of Martin
Reichel, brother of Toronto’s Robert Reichel, who will play against each other
for the first time since the Olympics.
Germans gave it all they had in Salt Lake City, but let’s be honest, they haven’t got a hope in hell of advancing past
the quarterfinals, unless of course Olie the Goalie stands on his head and Marco
Sturm gets his scoring touch back. But will it be enough? I’m predicting a
basement finish, but it won’t be from a lack of trying, there’s just way too
much talent on the other teams. One thing’s for sure, if
Germany makes some noise in this tournament
you’ll be certain to see a few more of these players in the big league before
4th in European division, last place overall
but certainly not least, is the Swedish Elite team of All-Stars, or so it would
seem. This squad of NHL regulars proves to be the biggest threat to Canada and
the U.S.A.’s chances. And lucky for Team Sweden and goaltender Tommy Salo,
Belarus will not ice a team in this tournament.
consider the last two World Championships, however, Belarus is the least of
Sweden’s worries. They have a chance to prove to the entire world they are
indeed capable of winning the big game. History over the past few years would
prove otherwise. Of course there was the big quarterfinal loss to Belarus in
Salt Lake City, then a loss of the lead versus Canada not once, but two years in
a row. If you think the U.S.A.-Canada rivalry is heated? Just wait and see
what happens if we end up with a Sweden-Canada final. Who will they cheer for
at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto then? Canada or Mats Sundin?
has a lot to prove, and I know I keep mentioning this, but it’s true. He just
hasn’t been the same goalie since the Olympics, period. Now he has a chance to
put it all behind him and be a better everyday goalie in the NHL, or not. If he
can’t get it done, the Swedes will have to rely on Toronto Maple Leafs’ backup
Mikael Tellqvist or Henrik Lundqvist of the Swedish Elite League.
Sweden certainly has more than enough firepower to get the job done, as they’ll
have the aforementioned Sundin, Peter Forsberg, the Sedin twins, Markus Naslund,
Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Tomas Holmstrom, Nils Ekman, and P.J.
Lidstrom and Mattias Ohlund will anchor the defense, along with Marcus
Ragnarsson, Dick Tarnstrom, Mattias Norstrom, Christian Backman, and Kim
key for Sweden is simple, score, and keep the other team from scoring. Easier
said than done you say? We’ll find out.
1st in division, could go all the way if Canada and the U.S.A. bow
tournament officially gets underway this week, so sit back, enjoy, and cross
your fingers a deal between the NHL and NHLPA can be worked out in time to save
word on the street has been pretty grim the past few days. Players’ have been
told to expect to lose an entire season or more, and let’s hope for everybody’s
sake this doesn’t happen.
again, if the NHL doesn’t play, it will give me an opportunity to concentrate on
some of the excitement from the minor leagues, so don’t abandon Puckin’ Around
because I sure won’t stop living and breathing hockey. Enjoy the tournament