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Current players motivated by World Cup legacy

by Arpon Basu

COLUMBUS -- Patrick Kane was 8 years old, but his memories remain vivid today.

The Chicago Blackhawks forward recalled watching the United States defeat Canada to win the 1996 World Cup of Hockey when the latest edition of the event, to be held in Toronto in 2016, was announced Saturday.

That victory had a huge impact on a generation of American-born players, with 22 to compete alongside Kane in Toronto in 2016.

David Backes of the St. Louis Blues and Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks were 12 at the time, Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild was 9, and Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens was 8, to name a few of the players who might have been influenced by that landmark victory for the United States program.

Kane is eager for the opportunity to lead the United States to a World Cup title in 2016, and perhaps inspire a new generation of players in the process.

"The World Cup is something that I grew up watching, especially in '96 when the U.S. team beat the Canadians. Watching guys like Mike Modano, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter win that World Cup was pretty amazing," Kane said Saturday. "Hopefully I get the chance to represent the United States, and the tournament itself will be very competitive."

Since the most recent World Cup was played, in 2004, there has been a significant changing of the guard in the NHL. Of the players who participated in that World Cup, 26 percent are active in the NHL, a number that might be smaller by the time the 2016 event commences.

Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins has a wealth of international experience playing for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship, the IIHF World Championship and the Olympics, but he's never had a chance to play in a World Cup.

He's excited to potentially have the opportunity to add a prestigious international event to an already stacked resume.

"It's definitely something very special," Bergeron said. "I used to watch the World Cup in '04 and I was definitely a huge fan of it, so I think it's going to be exciting for fans, but also for the players. I think it's definitely a big stage, and you always want to represent your country. If I do have that chance, it's definitely going to be something pretty special."

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey will be unique because of how two teams will be built. There will be the North American Youngstars team comprised of the best 23-and-under players from the United States and Canada, and there will be Team Europe, comprised of European players from outside the "Big Four" European countries involved in the tournament. Those four countries are Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, a native of Slovenia and the likely centerpiece of Team Europe, most likely would not have had an opportunity to participate in the tournament if this unique format were not in place.

"There are a lot of good players from Switzerland, Slovakia, Denmark, Norway, so I think it's going to be competitive," Kopitar said. "I think at the start it might be a little bit weird, just because you're bringing everybody together. But I guess one similar thing would be golf, when they bring together the Ryder Cup team, Team Europe. So we can kind of draw on that maybe. The guys are always professional and we're competitors, so it will be a hard tournament."

The World Cup also provides a second chance for players who missed out on the 2014 Sochi Olympics, whether it was because they weren't good enough to make their national team at the time or, in the case of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, they were injured.

This won't be the same, but Stamkos is eager to get a second shot at showing off his skills on a big world stage.

"I'm obviously very interested," Stamkos said Friday before the official announcement of the World Cup. "I still am crossing my fingers that we get a chance to go to the next Olympics. For me having never played in one and being so close last year, I definitely want a chance to represent my country at that stage, but the closest thing you're going to get to that is a World Cup, when you have all the best players playing for their countries. If that comes to fruition, I'm definitely going to be the first guy that jumps on board with that."

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