The kind-of inaugural World Cup of Hockey kicks off this weekend in Toronto. Here are three reasons why this 2 week tournament could be a smash success:
Team North America
Ok, it’s a bit gimmicky and an tacit admission that hockey is a niche sport globally, but what hockey fan doesn’t want to at least tune in to see just what kind of a track meet that Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews et al put on. The knock on any tournament being held this close to Labor Day is that the players will be nowhere near peak competitive form, but Team North America has the potential to put on a river hockey show at warp speed. Look out “old” guys!
True Best on Best
As world-wide tournaments go, hockey traditionally struggles to put together a slate of teams that are truly competitive after slot #5. As much as it was noble and sporting to watch the Kings’ Anze Kopitar lead his native Slovenia into Olympic battle in Sochi, the truth is that he had as good a chance to win a medal in luge at the 2014 Winter Games as he did in hockey. By combining the best players from all the 2nd tier international hockey countries onto Team Europe, there are no real guaranteed wins on the schedule in this World Cup.
The ESPN Factor
For as much as NBC Sports is committed to broadcasting hockey in the United States, the average American sports fan is as likely to equate that network with the Tour de France and English Premier Soccer as he is with hockey. The NHL and ESPN parted ways over a decade ago, in 2004. As an encore, the League cancelled the following season in a labor dispute with its players. This had the double whammy effect of erasing the NHL from the consciousness of a broad swath American sports fans, a reality that it has never really recovered from. While the World Cup of Hockey is a limited-time-only event, it can do nothing but help the NHL to be back in the ESPN content machine.