Friday, September 30, 2016

What worked and what didn't at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

It was a tougher series than most had expected, but in the end we got the result we were all waiting for.

Team Canada claims the World Cup once again, winning yet another best-on-best tournament by sweeping a surprisingly feisty Team Europe in two straight games.

Last night’s 2-1 comeback caps off a tournament that packed a decent number of twists and turns into its two-week schedule. We saw a new format with two new teams, a nice underdog story, and one so-called contender that turned out to be anything but.

It wasn’t perfect, or even especially close. But the World Cup certainly had its moments.

The 2016 edition marked the event's first appearance in 12 long years. Now that the tournament is done, let's take a look back at what worked and what didn't, and how we'd fix the problems that stood out.

What worked: The end result

Let's start with the obvious: The best team won. Canada's march through the tournament was yet another dominating performance by a nation that's getting used to them. The country now owns an international best-on-best win streak of 16 games and counting, dating back to the 2010 Olympics. And they've won three straight tournaments and five of the last six.

It wasn't always like this. Canadian fans of a certain age will remember the mounting panic around the turn of the century as the national program was going on a decade between major titles, including disappointing losses at the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Winter Olympics. But since then, a focus on skilled players and defined roles has restored Canada to its place at the top of the hockey world. They came into the tournament with the best roster on paper, and it wasn't especially close.

Of course, the games aren't played on paper, and by its nature, hockey is a game where anything can happen in a short tournament. A sudden slump or a hot goaltender can be all it takes to create an upset, and the Russians briefly had Canada on the ropes in last Saturday's semi-final.

But there would have been something unsatisfying about seeing a team as stacked as Canada lose on a fluke. Instead, they bulldozed everyone on their way to the final, just like we all expected them to. And while Team Europe proved a far tougher opponent than anyone expected, the best team still won.

If that's the whole point of a tournament like the World Cup, then the last two weeks were mission accomplished.

What didn't: The suspense factor

So yes, the best team won, and the tournament got the result it deserved. But from an entertainment perspective, Canada's continued dominance is starting to wear on these events.

It's all well and good to get to the happy ending, but a little suspense along the way would be nice.

These days, best-on-best hockey tournaments aren't about figuring out who the best team is. We already know that going in. Instead, they're largely about seeing whether anyone can play David to Team Canada's Goliath.

That can be fun in its own right — everyone loves an underdog story – and you can bet that when the day comes when someone finally pulls it off, hockey fans outside of Canada will be cheering them on. But over the last decade or so, it's just not happening.

And that might be an issue going forward, both at the World Cup and at any future Olympics. This is the entertainment business, and audiences don't typically want to sit through a long story if they already know how it's going to end.

In the same way that watching basketball's Team USA "Dream Team" was cool at first but has lost its luster over the years, seeing Team Canada roll through each and every major hockey tournament will eventually get old.

Maybe it already has.

How to fix it: The NHL could get creative with the format, either at the World Cup or elsewhere.

One suggestion that comes up often is a second Team Canada entry, either by splitting the program regionally or by creating a "B team" of players who didn't make the main squad.

There's also reportedly been talk of a Ryder Cup-style series that would pit a North American team against the best of Europe, or even Canada against the world.

But a more realistic fix might involve simply being patient. National programs tend to go through cycles, and right now it feels like Canada is at its peak while most of the other countries are struggling.

It's unlikely to stay that way. Countries like Finland and the USA have good young talent on the way, and Russia and Sweden will regroup. That doesn't mean that anyone will push past Canada as hockey's top nation, but we don't need them to — we just want somebody to narrow the gap enough that there's some uncertainty around the results.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet


  1. Always glad for any opportunity to showcase the fact that Canada is the best, but he gimmick teams were such a stupid idea that they must have been Bettman's own creation.

  2. Since we saw the gimmick teams, why not go full throttle: Let's have only TWO teams. Team North America (USA+Canada) vs. Team Europe (+Russia). Best of 7 series.
    Call this Summit Series On Steroids!