Though there are three regions represented in the NHL Gaming World Championship, the Final is really a story of three countries: the United States, Canada, and Finland. North America might capture most of the attention, but it was the Finns who celebrated after Erik "Eki" Tammenpaa's win in 2018. The native of Espoo, Finland, went undefeated en route to the crown and has an unblemished record through the regionals this year.
"Eki," the top seed, awaits the winner of the second-place playoff, which includes European chel pioneer Hannes "Hansulino" Kettunen, one of the most respected competitors in Finland. After a disappointing 2018 tournament, "Hansulino" finally has a chance to showcase his veteran presence on the world stage (as well as his Brent Burns-inspired chin sweater).
Karl Caslib, aka "MgxNuclear" is a newcomer who made an immediate impact by taking the top spot in the Canadian regional. The Vancouver native is proud to be able to represent Western Canada, and though he's a New Jersey Devils fan, he proudly reps his hometown Vancouver Canucks in the tournament.
Joining him from Canada is Matthew Grenier, aka "Yung Gren," who once again qualified for the Final with a second-place finish in the regional. With multiple victories at the NHL club level, the 17-year-old is the most decorated competitor in chel history, though a victory at the Gaming World Championship has eluded him. He enters this year's event a more mature, motivated player who wants nothing more than to call himself a world champion before he turns 18 in a week.
The storybook journey continues for Matthew Gutkoski, aka "Top-Shelf-Cookie." After failing to make it out of regionals last year, a series of setbacks at the NHL club level culminated with his first major victory in his hometown of Columbus. Since that win, he has been seemingly unstoppable, a trend that has continued with a U.S. regional win.
John Casagranda, aka "JohnWaynee90" is the third two-time world finalist in the tournament. One of the few "champ champs" this year, he took home the Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning trophies. Don't let his perpetual pleasant mood and easygoing demeanor fool you; the "Alaskan Assassin" has a clutch gene that keeps him competitive in every game and has earned him the nickname "Big Game John."
What the players are saying
"The field overall is more competitive than last year, but I´m still very confident. I'm looking forward to spending time with my fiancée in Vegas. It´s actually her first time in the U.S."
"As a fresh face in the community, I am looking forward to meeting everyone. It will be an exciting matchup against Cookie, as it's Canada and the United States playing on the world stage."
"I'm looking forward most to meeting up with a lot of players from the community, the ones playing as well as those making the trip to Vegas to support everyone. All of my opponents here are fantastic players and playing their best game at the right time of the year, so I think most series will go three games and will be a lot of fun to play in."
"I have good feelings; I just want to play already! Thoughts on my first opponents; they will be hard games. I need to win both to continue to semis, and it's not getting easier at all. But I think I have a good chance to win the whole thing. I'm relaxed and I'm just going to have fun while playing for the World Championship!"
"I'm excited to play again in that arena. The atmosphere for the finals last year was something I've never had at any other tournament. Also, I truly believe any one of the six guys could win the whole tournament, so I've been trying to prepare as much as I can."
"I absolutely am in love with my team! I did draft a lot of the same players but added speed on the opposite wing. My defense isn't as strong, but they're fast and good enough. If there was a "heart trait," my team would have 1980 "Miracle on Ice"-type heart!"
NHL teams chosen by competitors to represent:
johnwaynee90 (John Casagranda) -- Arizona Coyotes
Top-Shelf-Cookie (Matthew Gutkoski) -- Columbus Blue Jackets
Hansulino (Hannes Kettunen) -- San Jose Sharks
Yung Gren (Matthew Grenier) -- Tampa Bay Lightning
Eki (Erik Tammenpaa) -- Toronto Maple Leafs
MgxNuclear (Karl Caslib) -- Vancouver Canucks
To mine the data and collect analytics on each finalist's teams, we turned to David "JrPens" Roebuck, last year's runner-up. He took every competitor's teams and ran it through RStudio, a program he uses as part of his classes, to come up with some interesting information about the lineups. To see each player's roster, click here.
"Has the slowest top-six forwards. They average to be two attributes slower than every other competitor. However, he has the fastest group of depth forwards and the tallest group of defensemen; they average to be one inch taller than Nuclear's defense and at least two inches taller than everyone else's."
"Has by far the smallest top-six forwards. They average to be three inches shorter than every other competitor's top six. However, he has the second-tallest group of defensemen behind Cookie."
"Has the most accurate shooters in his bottom-six forwards compared to anyone else -- by at least two average points. In fact, his third line has better shooting than Gren's and Hansulinho's second line."
"Has by far the best face-off guys. His third-line center is better than everyone else's second-line center unless Cookie decides to put Pettersson as his No. 2 center."
"Well-balanced team. He also picked the least amount of players that were also on his regionals roster -- one; Max Domi. In contrast, Cookie has seven players that overlap."
"Seems to be a well-balanced team. The biggest factor for him is definitely [Connor] McDavid, where he is head and shoulders above all the other players. It's going to be dangerous with Eki having him."
Predictions from the experts
Paul "Pleemaker" Arontie, 2018 and 2019 NHL GWC European Regional finalist:
"Eki will beat Hansulino in semifinals 2-1 and TSC in final 2-0. No one can score enough goals against his defense, because he will always score at least five goals. "
Harley "Sitful" Sitko, 2018 and 2019 NHL GWC Canadian Regional finalist:
"Eki or Gren will win, in my opinion. I think Gren is the only one that can beat Eki because of how fast he plays on the rush. But my prediction is Gren to take it all."