Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

World Cup of Hockey, with strong Lightning ties, intriguing counterpart to Olympics

Team Canada's Steven Stamkos takes a shot during a training session ahead of the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) CHY119

Team Canada's Steven Stamkos takes a shot during a training session ahead of the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) CHY119

Make no mistake, the World Cup of Hockey won't have the exact feel of an Olympics.

"It's pretty tough for anything to really compare to the Olympics," said NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, a former Lightning goalie.

But in one area, this eight-team international tournament that begins Saturday in Toronto, could be better. The top-to-bottom talent, including 12 Lightning players, is second to none, said Europe coach Ralph Krueger, who has been part of international tournaments since 1981.

"I'll tell you right now: There's never, ever, ever been eight teams like this," Krueger told nhl.com. "I believe this is the strongest tournament in the history of hockey without a doubt, without a second, if you just look at the pure level of games."

The NHL-sanctioned tournament includes favorites Canada, United States, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Finland, which have combined for all Olympic medals since the NHL started participating in 1998. There's a Team North America, led by Oilers center and 2015 first overall draft pick Connor McDavid, which consists of the top players from the United States and Canada 23 and younger. Team Europe has players whose countries aren't individually represented.

And with the uncertainty whether the NHL will participate in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea over the International Olympic Committee's reticence to pay insurance and travel costs for the league's players, this may provide a best-on-best alternative.

Weekes, part of ESPN's broadcast crew for the tournament, helped break down key questions.

Can anyone beat Canada?

Canada is considered the favorite by pretty much everyone, and for good reason. The two-time defending Olympic champions are loaded, including with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. But a team in its preliminary-round group, the United States, might be its toughest challenge. That makes Tuesday's United States-Canada showdown must-see TV. "Team USA, their goalies (including the Lightning's Ben Bishop) are comparable to Canada, which is amazing," Weekes said. "The way Team USA is constructed up front is to be very physical. Also keep an eye on Team Sweden. If (goalie Henrik Lundqvist) plays the way we come to expect, look for them."

Do the young guns have a shot?

North America is the youngest, fastest and probably most fun team to watch. And it isn't lacking confidence. Forward Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche dubbed the 23-and-younger group "the most skilled team here." But can the kids hang with their more seasoned, star-studded opponents, including in a preliminary group with Sweden and Russia? TV analyst Craig Button, a former NHL general manager, doesn't think North America will win a game. Weekes believes it can be a factor. "They've got great goaltending and guys that can light up the score sheet," Weekes said.

Which Lightning player will make the biggest impact?

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is the nostalgic favorite, playing for the top team in his hometown of Toronto. Forward Nikita Kucherov has been paired with one of this generation's top scorers, Alex Ovechkin, for Russia. But Weekes believes Tampa Bay's most influential player in the tournament might be on the blue line. Defense is Sweden's strength, and smooth-skating Victor Hedman can take control at both ends of the ice, especially on the tournament's NHL-sized surface.

Lightning Strikes

The Lightning has an NHL-most 12 players participating in the World Cup. Here's a list by country, with the expected roles.

Canada: Steven Stamkos, top-six forward on tournament favorite

United States: Ben Bishop, expected to be backup goaltender

Russia: Nikita Kucherov, top-six forward in a loaded group; Andrei Vasilevskiy, backup goaltender; Vladislav Namestnikov, depth forward; Nikita Nesterov, depth defenseman

North America: Jonathan Drouin, top-six forward; Jon Cooper, assistant coach

Sweden: Victor Hedman, top-four defenseman; Anton Stralman, paired with Hedman, as he is with the Lightning

Czech Republic: Ondrej Palat, versatile wing likely playing all situations; Andrej Sustr, depth defenseman

Finland: Valtteri Filppula, alternate captain

Tournament schedule

The eight teams are split into two groups, with the top two teams in each after group play advancing to a single-elimination semifinal. The semifinal winners play a best-of-three final.

Saturday: United States vs. Europe, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2; Czech Republic vs. Canada, 8 p.m., ESPNEWS

Sunday: Sweden vs. Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN; North America vs. Finland, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Monday: Europe vs. Czech Republic, 3 p.m., ESPN; Russia vs. North America, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Tuesday: Finland vs. Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN; Canada vs. United States, 8 p.m., ESPN

Wednesday: North America vs. Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN; Europe vs. Canada, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Thursday: Finland vs. Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN; United States vs. Czech Republic, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Sept. 24: Semifinal, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Sept. 25: Semifinal, 1 p.m., ESPN

Sept. 27: Final Game 1, 8 p.m., ESPN

Sept. 29: Final Game 2, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Oct. 1: Final Game 3 (if necessary), 7 p.m., ESPN2

World Cup of Hockey, with strong Lightning ties, intriguing counterpart to Olympics 09/16/16 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2016 11:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  2. Rays journal: Steven Souza Jr. gets extra day off to let hip heal

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — RF Steven Souza Jr. ran in rightfield before batting practice under the watchful gaze of the Rays training staff and manager Kevin Cash. Afterward, Souza told Cash he could use one more day of rest before playing on the left hip he strained Wednesday in Oakland.

    Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brad Miller (13) gets a hug from right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) after his solo home run in the fourth inning of the game between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 21, 2017.
  3. Rays vs. Rangers, 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Rangers

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: FS1; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

  4. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Friday's Rays-Rangers game

    The Heater

    Looks like LF Corey Dickerson is coming out of his funk at the plate — .186 average in past 16 games entering Friday. He had two hits Wednesday in Oakland and three hits Friday against the Rangers. Okay, one was an infield hit that bounced high in front of the plate, but the other was a long home run to …

  5. History shows Ole Miss upheaval tough to overcome

    College

    After Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze resigned Thursday, with the opener six weeks away, offensive line coach Matt Luke is being thrown into an interim head coaching position. He will try to save a season that already had been scarred by a self-imposed bowl ban for NCAA violations.

    After coach Jim Tressel resigned, Ohio State went 6-7, including a loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl, in 2011.