The best and worst from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

The World Cup of Hockey has come to a close, and Canada has proven itself to be our hockey overlords once again with a two-game sweep against the rag tag team of European nations that the tournament didn’t have room for. They did it with a scintillating comeback from 1-0 down to win in the last four minutes of the game.

So, what will be the lasting legacy of this tournament? We look at the best and worst of the last two weeks:

THE BEST

ESPN: It has been a long time since ESPN threw their hat into the hockey ring, and it was surprising that this would be the tournament that would mark their return considering it’s the first one in 12 years and people by and large forgot that there was a World Cup 12 years ago. But ESPN doing hockey was like finding that warm blanket that you lost in a random drawer 12 years ago. The worst part about ESPN’s care factor of hockey plummeting to the ground was that you knew that people that work there care about it, but have been trapped in a cage of other sports. So to hear Steve Levy and John Buccigross do the sport they loved makes you happy for them, and that makes you happy. Even when Levy and Barry Melrose went into swapping story and inside joke modes while play was going on, it didn’t matter because their love of the sport translated. Darren Pang as the rinkside reporter was a great touch, because people forgot what it was like to watch a hockey game and not have their rinkside guy spout every college that every player went to in the history of college.

And that theme song:

Melts your heart.

ESPN also introduced a new wrinkle to hockey coverage and that deserves its own section:

REF CAM: Ref cam has probably been done before. Maybe in useless skill competitions. But ESPN proved that ref cam can work if done right. And it was done right.

But my favorite use of ref cam came early in the tournament, when Alex Ovechkin had a goal taken away from him that would have tied the game against Sweden. You can’t get views like this anywhere …

Ref Cam needs to be stolen and put into actual NHL broadcasts.

THE HYBRID TEAMS: All credit due to Team Europe, who made the finals and beat some heavyweights along the way. But the stars of the show might have been the 23-and-under Team North America, who would have made the semifinals against Canada had their overtime win been in regulation. I had people ask me why there was a North American team when there were already teams from Canada and the U.S. But once they understood the concept they liked it. Their games were the highlight of the tournament due to the fast skating combined with the competitiveness that they brought. Even when they lost they were never out of it.

This might have been my favorite moment of the tournament, and Connor McDavid didn’t even score:

And this was before they had about 45 breakaways in the first period of their game against Sweden. Maybe Brad Marchand was right when he said the only way to stop these guys was to spear everyone (not that we at Puck Drunk Love condone spearing). What this team proved is that the NHL won’t go through a post Crosby/Ovechkin hangover when those guys retire. It’s in very, very good hands with guys like McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau. One would hope that if this tournament happens again, that Team North America would be a part of it. Although I’m not sure there will be a Team NA roster as good as this one unless you go into a time machine and have this tournament in 1981.

THE WORST

VIRTUAL ADS: ESPN did throw a distracting wrinkle in the proceedings, with virtual rinkboard ads that you could see only from the main center ice camera.

rink-ad

Now, I’m not going to be grumpy and say that this is an abomination and that when I was young there were no ads and we walked uphill in the snow both ways while barefoot. While all that is true (especially the snow part), this could work if it got some tweaking. It was very distracting in the beginning while watching a game, and it almost made you think that ESPN didn’t care whether you enjoyed the game or not, but more concerned over whether you were mesmerized by the new style of advertising. And I get that with all the Canadian ads on the boards, ESPN wanted to find a way to monetize it for American audiences. I get it. But it was way too distracting. Some of the distraction was normal “we’ve never seen this before so we’re staring at it and before you know it we missed three goals” that will fade over time when this is done. But then when the ads started moving …

I’m not afraid to say that freaked me out. Maybe get them to not move so much, and make them less ubiquitous (maybe not have the same ad on the boards fifteen times in a row) and we’ll have something.

TEAM USA: From the construction of the team, to the coaching of the team, to the play on the ice, there wasn’t a bigger disappointment in the WCoH than Team USA. GM Dean Lombardi constructed the team on grit and character for a two week tournament for some reason, and left players like Tyler Johnson, Bobby Ryan and Phil Kessel off the roster. John Tortorella benched Dustin Byfuglien against Europe, and then benched Brandon Dubinsky against Canada when the only discernible reason Dubinsky was on the roster was to agitate Sidney Crosby … who plays for Canada. No wonder the U.S. was embarrassed:

BUZZ: Maybe you would think it’s sour grapes since it came from Ryan Kesler, but the buzz seemed to be missing from the World Cup, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps having the tournament in one venue was part of the problem. Sure, Toronto is hockey crazy, but when you schedule games during weekday afternoon hours so that you can shoehorn the schedule to fit in under two weeks, you find out there’s a limit. Of course, the NHL doesn’t care because they sold their tickets in strips. (And what they didn’t get in ticket revenue, I’m sure they got by selling frozen water in crystal for $65.)

The 1996 World Cup featured games in nine separate arenas, and lasted about two and a half weeks. And I can tell you from being at four of those games at Madison Square Garden and in Philadelphia, those were four of the most electric games that I’ve ever been to in my life. (And for reference, I’ve been to Stanley Cup Final games and Wayne Gretzky’s final game, so I’ve been to some good ones.) Even the Canada/Sweden semifinal game which was in Philadelphia (while the United States played their semifinal game in Ottawa), had an amazing atmosphere. (Although Canada having Gretzky, Messier, and Flyer favorite Eric Lindros probably helped.) And also, ’96 was special because it was the first World Cup, and it was the first WC before pros were allowed to compete in the Olympics. And maybe that’s part of the problem too. Post Olympics, an irregularly timed World Cup just doesn’t hold the same allure it did 20 years ago.

And let’s face it, Canada dominating the field and coming up in the final against a surprise Team Europe didn’t help matters. I’m sure the commish would have loved a Canada vs. USA final just like all of the United States would have. But such is life. What this basically seemed to be was a nice dry run for 2020, when the World Cup of Hockey might be the only international competition NHL’ers look forward to.

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