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2016 World Cup of Hockey exciting prelude to upcoming NHL season

Will Tomer/The Round Table

Will Tomer/The Round Table

For the first time since 2004, the hockey world is prepping for the World Cup of Hockey. The irregularly run tournament draws elite international competition from various leagues around the world, with this year’s edition being hosted in Toronto, Canada.

The tournament was previously held in 1996 and 2004. During the inaugural year, the United States defeated Canada in the title game, while the Canadians bested the Finnish in 2004.

The 2016 edition of the contest was announced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the International Ice Hockey Federation with the hopes of making the tournament a recurring event every four years.

The modest sized tournament will feature eight teams this year — the host nation of Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, North America (a special team for players 23-and-under) and Europe (a team for players from assorted other European countries).

All of the teams are stocked with top-tier talent — Team USA features the likes of forward Patrick Kane, defenseman Ryan Suter and goalie Ben Bishop, while Team Canada has forward Sidney Crosby, defenseman Brent Burns and goalie Carey Price.

The American squad is hoping to adopt the playstyle of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who were able to secure Lord Stanley’s Cup thanks to an emphasis upon puck pressure and tempo of play. As a matter of fact, the Penguins’ success with this playstyle may encourage most teams to try and adopt some form of it.

The Penguins’ speed was mostly appreciated for the high-flying offense, but it was the astounding speed of the team’s puck pursuers that neutralized the potent offenses of the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks. When facing up against, say, the bulky offensive prowess of the Russian team, a team like the U.S. would be well advised to try and play a speedy, pesty game.

Team Canada still stands as the tournament’s likely favorite. The team has won the past two Olympic tournaments, and three of the last four. The team also touts a set of forwards that could carry any team on their back — Crosby, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. That’s without even mentioning their blue line presence and the fact that stud goaltender Carey Price is healthy enough to man the pipes.

However, the Swedish squad could be a dark horse. Their defensive lineup of Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Victor Hedman is intimidating and powerful. Henrik Lundqvist will also be in net, immediately making them a tough team to score against.

The youthful Team North America also has the potential to make quite the splash during the tournament. Much is made of experience in high-pressure athletics, but this team which many have labeled as a gimmick could knock that notion by the wayside if youthful stars like Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel and Aaron Ekblad can turn in top notch performances.

The Russian squad has both hulking menaces like Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, as well as swift danglers like Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Datsyuk. The team is a threat to put up big scores almost every game. But with a lackluster defense and mediocre goaltending, they could let up big numbers each game as well.

In their home nation, it is hard to imagine any team upsetting the Canadian squad. But if the American wingers, led by Kane and T.J. Oshie step up, the U.S. could have a shot.

The whole event should act as a fitting opening to another exciting NHL season. Just keep your fingers crossed that your team’s best player doesn’t go down duking it out on behalf of his home country

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