Well, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are over, leaving a weird hockey-less void on my television set, on the internet, and at the risk of sounding too dramatic, in my heart. A long, hot summer awaits until the NHL gets back into swing in October, but lucky for us, this offseason will be just a little bit shorter thanks to the comeback of the World Cup of Hockey. After a 12-year hiatus, the tournament returns in September for a two-week tournament at Toronto's Air Canada Center. The eight-team showcase is like the ultimate Olympic hockey intermission, falling perfectly between the 2014 and 2018 winter games. While confirmation of the World Cup's return was announced a while back, the jersey and roster announcements sent the hockey world abuzz with questions, predictions and most of all, excitement.
Judging from the rosters, the usual suspects are still looking like top contenders. Sweden's defensive core and Finland's goaltending duo of Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne will be near impossible to crack, and on the offensive front, Russia is loaded with a laundry list of skilled snipers that will give even the best defenses a run for their money. Canada is still stacked at the center position, their roster looking more like the 2025 Hall of Fame ballot with mega-stars like Crosby, Toews, Bergeron and Stamkos, just to name a few.
The Americans made some interesting changes from the Sochi Olympic roster, sticking with core players like Jonathan Quick, Zach Parise and T.J. Oshie, but adding a more physical presence in unlikely picks, Justin Abdelkader and Dustin Byfuglien. GM Dean Lombardi was looking to mimic the makeup of the 1996 Olympic group, assembling a team of players who are as committed as they are talented (cue Herb Brooks' "I'm not looking for the best players, I'm looking for the right ones"), and he's hoping to get that grit and attitude from Abdelkader and Big Buff.
Any of these teams are more than equipped to win this tournament, but the hodgepodge teams of Europe (European players not from Russia, Finland, Sweden or Czech Republic) and North America U-23 might just be the dark horse contenders that surprise us. Team Europe's goaltending tandem of Halak and Andersen may not have the star power of their fellow continent-men, but with the strength of Zdeno Chara and Roman Josi on the back end and lethal offensive of Marian Hossa, Tomas Tatar and Anze Kopitar, this team of usual rivals might just band together and surprise us.
While I originally discounted the North American under-23 team as kind of lame and gimmicky, the roster of youngsters from the U.S. and Canada is actually really damn scary. The amount of talent in this group of 16 players alone is enough to make even the most seasoned of veterans sweat. The speed and skill of this forward group will, if nothing else, be a blast to watch, but I think the North American rookie squad actually has a solid shot at making a deep run in the tournament. First and second overall draft picks Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel highlight the preliminary roster along with Calder candidate Dylan Larkin, Calgary points leaders Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and Colorado speedster Nathan Mackinnon.
Pittsburgh may still be sweeping confetti off the city streets, but lucky for the rest of us, this hockey-less summer will get cut short by a month, and the game we love will be back again before we know it!