As NHL players continue off-season training in preparation for another run at the Stanley Cup, a select few will have a different trophy in their sights next month.
The World Cup of Hockey returns for the first time in 20 years this September, and a total of seven Winnipeg Jets players will take to the ice in the tournament, with an additional two heading to the event in staff roles.
Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler will suit up for USA, Ondrej Pavelec will wear the colours of the Czech Republic, Patrik Laine will represent Finland, while Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, and Jacob Trouba will play for North America.
Team Europe will also have representation from the Winnipeg Jets, with Paul Maurice serving as an assistant coach to Ralph Krueger. Jason McMaster, Winnipeg's Equipment Manager, will have the same title with Europe as well.
EUROPE ENCOURAGED BY DEPTH
"When you look at the teams, the countries we'll draw from, realistically they never go to a tournament with an opportunity," Maurice said. "They have the three or four good players that are playing for their countries, and a lot of home town talent."
Europe's team consists of players from countries such as France, Denmark, Slovenia, and Germany to name a few.
"They never come with enough depth to realistically get into the tournament and think they have an opportunity," said Maurice. "There's so much more interaction, whether it's social media or free agency, these guys know each other a lot better than they would have maybe 20 or 30 years ago.
"They've played against each other, a lot of them are teammates on their team. I think they're going to be excited."
EXCITED TO WEAR THE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE
Despite having four NHL All-Star Games under his belt, Dustin Byfuglien has never represented his country at an international event. That will change in September, when the native of Roseau, MN wears a USA jersey for the first time.
"There are so many good players out there. To get picked, it's an honour," Byfuglien said. "It will be exciting. I'm super excited to do it. I can't wait to start."
Byfuglien believes a focus on his responsibilities in the defensive zone perhaps made him more appealing to USA's management, and a more reliable player night in, night out.
"I think my game isn't as high risk as it has been in the past," he said, adding Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy has been essential to his growth as a player.
"He's always in your ear. Just giving you great little tips. When the game isn't going well, he's not afraid to ease it up a little bit and tell me a joke or something. Get me back to where I'm better, smiling, and having fun."
Maurice was happy to see Byfuglien's hard work rewarded.
"I'm hoping it's part of that recognition by him, how important of a player he is in this league, and he transfers that to the Winnipeg Jets. We all appreciate what he does for us and how dominant he is in games," said Maurice.
"To go to an All-Star Game, then get named to a World Cup team on the first go around, he's solidifying to himself, and maybe people that don't watch the Winnipeg Jets' minds, that he's an elite player in this league."
Speaking of elite, Blake Wheeler had represented the USA twice prior to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. He says being named to his country's World Cup roster is on the same level as Sochi.
"To be able to say you're an Olympian is pretty special, so it carries a lot of weight. I'm equally as excited about this opportunity," said Wheeler. "Having it in Toronto, the calibre of players that are going to be there, it's going to be a really exciting event."
STRONG JETS CONTINGENT FOR NORTH AMERICA
The majority of the Winnipeg Jets' representation at the World Cup will be on the North American squad. Connor Hellebuyck was the only player named during the first roster announcements on Mar. 2, with Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba being added May 27.
Scheifele saw that as a reward for the strong finish he had to the 2015-2016 season. The 23-year-old ended the campaign on a ten game point streak, and had 17 goals and 34 points since Feb. 18.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. I'm pretty excited to be a part of that, and it's definitely an honour to be chosen for that team," said Scheifele.
The centre was enjoying a vacation in California when he got the call, shortly after helping Canada to gold at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
"It's a different time zone, so I kept on thinking 'if I get the call, what time might it be at?' So I was really nervous until I got the call," said Scheifele. "Once I did, I don't think the smile has left my face since."
Team practices begin on Sept. 5, with the tournament beginning Sept. 17.
WORLD CUP QUICK LINKS
Team Practice Schedules:
Fan Village Info: