(ATR) Hockey fans no longer have to wait for the Olympics to watch their favorite stars represent their countries and compete for a prestigious international title.
World Cup of Hockey preparations at Air Canada Centre in Toronto (Getty Images)
The first World Cup of Hockey in 12 years opens Saturday as the United States faces Team Europe at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The National Hockey League, in conjunction with its players’ association and the International Ice Hockey Federation have resurrected the two-week international tournament which was previously contested in 1996 and 2004.
"I do think we're committed to this tournament – we will do it again on a regular basis,” said National Hockey League deputy commissioner Bill Daly earlier this week. “How that fits in with the Olympics is really the question that I can't answer."
Considering that the world’s elite NHL players have skated in five consecutive Winter Olympics since the previous World Cup, it became evident that demand for a showcase international tournament has not been as high as it was prior to Nagano 1998.
The North American based NHL – which has yet to reach an agreement on its participation in PyeongChang 2018 and at times has locked horns with the International Olympic Committee over various issues – seeks to ascertain worldwide exposure while entertaining sports fans over the next 15 days in Toronto.
Canada won its second consecutive gold in Sochi (ATR)
Though the success of the World Cup could conceivably factor into the NHL’s decision whether to return to the Olympics, Daly said the League and the NHLPA will evaluate in due time.
"I'm not sure one will necessarily be related to the other," Daly said. "But obviously, I think we're going to use the tournament as kind of a relevant platform to see what kind of success we have, what kind of enthusiasm built around it, what the players' reactions are to it.
Daly said the NHL looks forward to meeting with the IIHF in Toronto.
"We haven't had a discussion with the IIHF for a couple months now on where they stand with the IOC on Olympic participation, so I expect over the next two weeks we'll get a briefing,” said the NHL executive.
“The IIHF will be present in Toronto for this tournament, so I guess we'll have a better sense of where we're going with the Olympics in the next little while."
The World Cup is comprised of eight teams divided into two groups. In addition to traditional hockey powers Canada, Russia, United States, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, a European all-star team and a North American team composed of the top young players from Canada and the United States who are 23 or younger, round out the field.
After semifinal eliminations, two teams will play a best-of-three series from Sep. 27 to Oct. 1 to determine the champion.
Canada seeks to continue its world hockey supremacy on home ice in Toronto and is widely considered the odds-on favorite.
Sidney Crosby during Media Day (Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby, the 29-year-old face of Canadian hockey, could add a new honor to his two Olympic gold medals, two Stanley Cups and two world championship titles.
The Canadians have won the previous two Olympic gold medals in Sochi and Vancouver and 13 of 23 players on its roster return from the Sochi 2014 squad.
Canada defeated Finland to win the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, while the United States knocked off the Canadians in a best-of-three series to take top honors in 1996.
Thirty-seven-year-old Joe Thornton is the only Team Canada player who was also on the 2004 roster.
The host nation begins its quest for the World Cup title on Saturday night versus Team Czech Republic.
Alex Ovechkin (Getty Images)
Ovechkin to Korea No Matter What
Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin says he will play in PyeongChang 2018 regardless of what the NHL decides about its future Olympic status.
“My decision is the same. I don’t know what’s going to happen right now,” Ovechkin told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. “I’ve said I’m going to play.”
Ovechkin, who has played in three Olympics but never won a medal, said the Olympics shouldn’t be compared to the World Cup of Hockey, considering that two all-star teams are replacing countries in the unique format.
“You can’t compare those two tournaments,” Ovechkin continued. “Basically it’s three North American teams, one Team Europe and then Russian, Czech, Sweden and Finland.
“Yes, the best players are here. But it’s not the Olympics.”
Written by Brian Pinelli
For general comments or questions, click here.
20 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com, for subscribers only.