Photo Credit: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS
Tick, tock. The World Cup of Hockey, as of publish time, is about three and a half hours away from opening puck drop, and you’re still seeing the same arguments arise in the hockey community. Do we care about the tournament? Why do we care? What does any of this mean? Does it really matter?
I get it. Some fans feel that this is nothing more than a cash grab by the National Hockey League. Surely, the league and the players are going to be taking in fistfuls of income by marketing a gigantic event in the centre of the hockey universe, while putting premium price tags on everything along the way.
But does that matter? Fans will always vote with their wallets, and if the tournament is generating the income that the team wants, that probably means that the masses are enjoying themselves and that their suspicious weren’t unfounded. We spend too much time talking about whether profiteering matters; as much as we’d like to keep the game pure by saying it’s just a bunch of people on skates doing the things they love, it’s an entertainment product where billionaires recruit future millionaires.
Besides, while the windfall from the tournament isn’t going directly into hockey-related revenue, the league and the PA’s investments will likely trickle down, and I personally am very okay with the idea of a two week marketing blitz morphing in a little bit of extra salary cap flexibility down the line.
I get it. Some fans feel that this isn’t the same as the Olympics, where there is a greater emphasis on national pride rather than choose your super team. But does that matter either?
By making the Olympics the gold standard, we’re ignoring the fact that NHLers have only been there five times out of a possible 23. We’re ignoring the fact that the IOC aren’t exactly pure in the financial process either, and have a habit of using corruption rather than common sense to get to the finish line of their money lust. We’re ignoring that the Olympics disrupt a season, rather than prelude it. Moreover, we’re setting a standard on the fly that the hockey only matters based on how it’s promoted to us, rather than what it is.
I get it. Some fans want best-on-best, and they don’t feel this tournament accomplishes it. Some players have suddenly backed out, after all. That totally wouldn’t happen at the Olympics, unlike all the times where it has. That totally wouldn’t happen at the ghost town that is the annual World Championships. That totally wouldn’t happen at the World Juniors where the best Under 20 players in the world play, other than the ones who are injured, in a “can’t lose games” stretch with their club teams, or are actually better than all of these players and already in the NHL.
Sorry, I went on a bit of a tangent, but it’s clear that these aren’t the best games possible. They have two made up countries, for goodness sake! How do you call that a best-on-best tournament, where some of the best hockey talent we’ve ever seen work together to beat some of the best hockey talent we’ve ever seen! It can only be a best on best tournament if Anze Kopitar is trying to set up a guy playing in the third tier of the Swedish system, or the perrenial 55 point scorers have to stay out of the lineup because the perrenial 58 point scorers decided not to rest their injuries.
Forget that, it’s a ridiculous train of thought. This might be the first time we see eight truly strong teams, who all have a decent shot at winning this thing, take each other on in an international tournament. I’ll take that over Canada blowing out the team that squeaked into the qualifiers by 10 goals so we can claim that a even game tournament gives us any semblance of an international ranking system.
Even the oddball teams are great ideas. Are the players of Team Europe representing their own countries? Not directly, but the entire premise of the club is to unite the best of the nations that are seen as has-beens or never was-es to work together to take on the powerhouses. Is there as much pride as a having a mini-Miracle on Ice? Probably not, but it’s going to take a lot of coin tosses for Mats Zuccarello to get the Norweigians to have a close game against the Canadians; this way, they can at least feel pride in being part of the process, instead of having to accept just being there as good enough.
Team North America’s chip on their shoulders is a bit different. They’re arguably as good as their Canadian and American counterparts, but they haven’t been around long enough to make fans of other teams angry yet. They’re fast, they’re skilled, and they’d probably almost entirely be snubbed by their true countries for not having earned their
three Adidas stripes yet, even if they deserved it. They’ll form a superteam that we might only see once ever, they’ll prove themselves for the next time their actual nations come calling, and it’s going to be a blast.
That’s the thing about this tournament; we need to stop worrying about keeping it “true to the game”, because quite frankly, the game is boring, stale, and repetitive; ironic for such a free-flowing, high intensity, and highly dynamic sport. I was at the Premiere Party in the Distillery Fan District last night, and for a tournament that nobody was supposed to care about, the energy was immense. There were pop-up installations everywhere for people to play and interpret the game in a ton of different ways (the human bubble hockey booth is arguably the hardest thing I have ever played). They had all the players from every country come out on stage one by one with live music in between, as fans cheered on their favourites and told stories to each other about why they came to like that player.
I think that’s what can be gotten out of this tournament more than anything. Forget the (beneficial to the league) financial side, forget the worries about a (never truly attainable) best-on-best, forget the (immensely entertaining) gimmick factor. This tournament is a celebration of hockey, where players showed in exhibition games that they weren’t going to take it easy. We may never get the dream format with the dream rosters that makes every fan happy, and that’s fine.
What we’re getting contains the vibe of an All-Star Weekend with the on-ice intensity and game format of an Olympics, and that’s fantastic. Hopefully, by the time the trophy is lifted, more of you will feel the same way.