The World Cup is just days away, and much of the recent buzz has been around Team North America. The new entry, made up of some of the game’s brightest young stars, has already beaten Team Europe in a pair of exhibition games.
They’re fast, they’re skilled, their uniforms are kind of cool, and they’re gaining credibility as a dark horse to make some noise, if not win the whole thing. It’s all led to talk that the Team North America concept, originally thought to be a one-time deal, could end up becoming a permanent fixture in future World Cups.
But today, let’s forget about the future and turn to the past, with what could make for a fun hypothetical: What if there had always been a Team North America? What if every Canada Cup and World Cup had featured a team of the best 23-and-under Canadian and American players of the day?
Let’s find out. We’ll go back over each of the seven Canada and World Cup tournaments, and figure out what a Team North America roster would have looked like.
First, some ground rules. We’ll use the same criteria that the 2016 tournament is using, meaning players have to be 23-or-under as of October 1 in the year the tournament is held. As with this year, we’ll allow players who don’t have NHL experience, but limit the roster to players who’ve at least been drafted.
As best we can, we’ll ignore the benefit of hindsight and try to go by a player’s reputation at the time of the tournament, meaning some late-blooming stars may be passed over. And to keep it simple, we’re going to pretend that everyone is healthy and available.
(All research for this post was conducted using the tools at the indispensable hockey-reference.com.)
We’ll count the seven teams down from worst to best. And as it turns out, that means we’ll begin at the beginning.
No. 7 – 1976
Up front: There are some recognizable names here, including Bryan Trottier, Lanny McDonald and Clark Gillies, but it’s not a star-studded group. Despite being in the middle of the record-breaking 70s, we’ve got only one 100-point scorer, and it’s Pierre Larouche.
The blue line: Denis Potvin is the big star here, not to mention the team’s best player. Ian Turnbull would be there too. And since the real-life teams decided to allow WHA players, we will too, which lets us scoop up Mark Howe.
In goal: There’s not a ton to choose from; we’re probably rolling with John Davidson as our starter and hoping we don’t need to turn to a backup.
Worth noting: This would really be a Team North America in name only; other that Howe, I’m not sure a single American would make the squad.
Overall outlook: They’d have been fun to watch, but there’s just not enough talent here to compete with the world’s best.
No. 6 – 2004
Up front: We have to go back over a decade for the last World Cup, which means we just miss out on the Sidney Crosby era. But we do pick get to include players from the ridiculously stacked 2003 draft, one that’s often considered one of the best ever.
The biggest name would be Rick Nash, who’d just won a share of the Rocket Richard as a teenager. He’d make a nice first-line combo with soon-to-be Senator teammates Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. It gets thin after that, though, with big names like Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier just missing the cutoff, and the team wouldn’t have a 60-point scorer.
In goal: In theory, this would be considered a strength, since you’d have the only two goalies since 1968 to go first overall in Rick DiPietro and Marc-Andre Fleury.
You’d likely see DiPietro as the starter, given that he was coming off a decent year and wouldn’t be widely considered a bust until a few years (and one big contract) down the road.
Worth noting: That 2003 draft class doesn’t end up helping as much as you’d think it would.
Patrice Bergeron makes the team, and maybe Dustin Brown does too. But future stars like Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf, Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Suter and Corey Perry were all still waiting to make their NHL debut, so it’s unlikely you’d see any of them on the team.
Overall outlook: It’s not a bad squad, but it’s impossible to look at it without thinking about how much better it would be if we’d have had even one more year to work with.