The buzz surrounding the World Cup of Hockey – and the expectations coming in for the Canadian squad – ended in triumph for the host nation, as Team Canada swept Team Europe in two games, finalizing the inevitable. The tournament itself was a spectacle, and even 12 years removed from the last international stage, the World Cup of Hockey is here to stay for good.
Before we touch on Jonathan Toews' exceptional pass, or Crosby's phenomenal tournament performance, let's take a step back and rewind before the puck even dropped. With Air Canada Centre waiting in the wings, the NHL & NHLPA decided to kick off the World Cup of Hockey to celebrate Greater Toronto schools and kids, stepping out of the spotlight that was honed in on the tremendous talent taking the ice.
On September 14th, the Air Canada Centre welcomed 9,000 kids from Toronto schools for the Future Goals Showcase, an event that focused on science, technology, engineering and math in the game of hockey, as well as the global impact that the game of hockey entails. Special guests from local legend and President of the Toronto Maple Leafs Brendan Shanahan to Kevin Weekes and Evanka Osmak graced the students with their knowledge of the game and STEM, while also testing their own. Students heard from publicly unknown celebrities like Dan Craig, NHL Senior Director of Facility Operations, who went into the science of your favorite player's playing surface: The ice. Charlie Marshall introduced the Supponor dasher board technology (yes, that Molson ad during the television broadcast is digital!) in what was informative for everyone in the building. To wrap it all up, the kids enjoyed an All-Star Skills Competition, played by local minor league team, the Toronto Marlboros. The whole time I was there, it made me wonder: Where was this field trip when I was that age?
The game of hockey is exciting, enthralling, and at times, heartbreaking. It's not often you're able to feel the joy of your country, or team, finally raise that coveted trophy – if ever. It should also be noted that a good percentage of those kids would have never been able to go to a World Cup of Hockey contest, so for them, this was their trophy. The NHL, NHLPA, and all 30 teams are pulling off some pretty cool things outside of the arena, doing their part in the community and setting up kids for success in the STEM industry with the Future Goals program, while also building the interest in the game of hockey. Now that you've learned more about the league and Players' Association that you may not have otherwise known, how about some hockey?!
Three Champion Studs: Team Canada
This one's a given, as anybody that has tuned into the World Cup of Hockey, Sportscenter, or just simply knows the English language, understands that Crosby is one of the best in the game. The 29-year-old superstar is still fresh off a Stanley Cup win, and now joins very rare company with his MVP performance in the tournament. Sid the Kid is one of three players in history – Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr are the others – that has the Hart Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy, and the World Cup of Hockey MVP on his mantle. We must say no more, just bask in the greatness and enjoy it, as players like Crosby don't come around too often. Three goals and seven assists for the stud, which tops the tournament.
Toews may not be the first name mentioned when you're talking about Team Canada, or even the Blackhawks for that matter, just based off of how much sheer talent surrounds him. The 28-year-old's game-winning helper is worth 15 views, at least, and also remember that it was shorthanded (and with less than a minute to go!). The 2006 No. 3 pick had "just" five points in the tournament, but boy did he love competing against Team Europe! Toews had two goals and two assists – and a plus-4 rating – in three games. Forget preseason, the World Cup has the center primed for a 60-plus campaign in 2016-17.
There was no way Marchand was going to be left out, even if the game-winning tally was his only points of the tournament. The 28-year-old winger took the dish from Toews and buried it to seal the win, leaving no doubt which team was the clear-cut elite of the World Cup. The Bruins star cruised through the cup himself, potting five goals and adding three assists. That shot will be replayed throughout Canada for at least another four years.
Can't forget about...Carey Price
Is there a better way to come back from a season-ending injury? Price was undefeated in the tournament with an astounding .953 save percentage. The 2005 No. 5 pick was as good as advertised, and if you got him as your No. 1 netminder, buckle up!
Two Studs for Second Place: Team Europe
Team Canada may have won, but it shouldn't overshadow Halak's performance in the tournament. Team Europe was probably not a top choice to make the finals, but the 31-year-old did his best to lead his country to a win. Ultimately, the Canadians are stacked and only Carey Price (and even then, maybe not) could contain such a star-studded cast. The Slovakian finished the tournament with a .943 save percentage and 2.17 GAA (one shutout). The Islanders would welcome that sort of goaltending in 2016-17 with open arms.
Kopitar ended the tournament tied for the most points on the team (4), which doesn't sound like much, but the team managed to spread the wealth. Zuccarello would be a candidate in this position, but unlike Kopitar, he was unable to produce any points against Team Canada. The 29-year-old picked up four helpers in three games down the stretch, and while he was pointless in Game 2, the winger was a key reason why Team Europe ended up in the final. The Norwegian should have another 60-point campaign with the Rangers in 2016-17.
The World Cup of Hockey was an exceptional stage dominated by the host nation, Canada. The tournament had its disappointments – insert "Team USA" here – and surprises, but overall, I can't wait until 2020. While I may speak for many fans in my hopes that Team North America is as exciting as they were this year, it'll be great to see the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel all grown up and ready to represent their country in full. Team Russia may very well have made the final if they didn't have to come up against the juggernaut that is Team Canada, and side note, Erik Karlsson is definitely still great (the Swedes also had a massive showing at the games, whether their team was playing or not). The Finnish team struggled top to bottom, which made for a tournament to forget. Team Czech Republic beat Team USA in a meaningless contest, but hey, Team Czech Republic beat Team USA. Coming from a guy born in Virginia, 2020 couldn't come fast enough for a little much-needed redemption.
That's all for now – or four years – but I hope you enjoyed the World Cup as much as myself and others, and if you're interested in learning more about the Future Goals initiative, head to FutureGoals.NHL.com.