OTTAWA -- The players who will skate in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey will face a tougher, more intense game than they have experienced in the Olympics, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Tuesday.
The eight teams playing in the World Cup will reveal their preliminary rosters Wednesday.
When asked Tuesday if Team North America, composed of American and Canadian players age 23 and younger as of Oct. 1, 2016, could be a dark horse championship contender, Hitchcock said: "I don't know about the teams. I just know the hockey is better than the Olympics."
Hitchcock was an assistant or associate coach for Canada at the past four Olympics and at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Canada won gold at the 2002, 2010 and 2014 Olympics and at the 2004 World Cup.
Hitchcock said he is positioned to compare the styles of play and left no doubt about what players can expect from the competition at the World Cup of Hockey, which will be held in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, compared to the Olympics.
"It's harder," he said. "It's more physical because it's on a smaller ice surface. Everybody comes from equal footing, everybody is fresh, everybody is focused. And you get a level of, I guess the best word to describe it is desperation, in each game that is at a whole other level from Olympic play.
"I came to [the 2004 World Cup] after the 2002 Games thinking that I had seen everything. And then what I saw in 2004 was way beyond any Stanley Cup Playoff game. I left there shocked at how hard the games were, how intense the games were, how you just could not take a shift off."
Hitchcock said one of the big factors that makes the World Cup of Hockey different from the Olympics is the timing of the event. The World Cup will take place before the NHL regular season begins; the Olympics take place in February, just past the halfway point of the NHL season.
The teams will benefit from more preparation time at the World Cup, and players won't be as tired.
"You're able to really work your group for an extended period of time to get them ready and you get some of the hardest, most intense hockey I've ever seen," Hitchcock said.
"The Olympics is a spectacle and it's a great spectacle. But the hockey comes when players, some defensemen are playing 30 minutes, some forwards are playing in the mid-20s, they're tired. There are times you don't even practice in the Olympics, whereas you get on the ice, everybody practices, everybody is together [at the World Cup]. The team play is excellent and the level of competition is right through the roof."