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2016 World Cup of Hockey Preview

Looking at the Cats in action in the World Cup of Hockey

by Jameson Olive JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Before they begin their quest to capture a second consecutive Atlantic Division title, several of the Florida Panthers' rising stars must first take on a much larger opponent - the world.

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey officially gets underway on Saturday, with more than 150 of the best hockey players in the world ready to battle for international bragging rights in the recently revitalized best-on-best competition.

The tournament will take place over a two-week period, from Sept. 17 - Oct. 1, and all games will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, home of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.

The eight teams participating in this year's World Cup are Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Finland, Team Russia, Team Sweden, Team USA, Team Europe and Team North America.

These teams have been split into two Groups, Group A and Group B, for the Preliminary Round (Sept. 17-22), when each team will play its three Group opponents in a round-robin format.

The top two finishers in Group A and Group B will advance to the Semifinals (Sept. 24-25), where the first-place team from each Group will face an elimination game against the second-place team from the other Group. The two Semifinal winners will then meet in the Final, a best-of-three series on Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and, if necessary, Oct. 1.

This tournament isn't like any you've ever seen before, however, as traditional international powerhouses such as Canada and the United States will face off against a pair of new and exciting multi-national super teams in Team Europe and Team North America.

Team Europe is comprised of players from all other European countries outside of Finland, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Russia, while Team North America consists of the best players from the United States and Canada who are 23 or younger as of Oct. 1, 2016.

Aaron Ekblad , Vincent Trocheck , Aleksander Barkov and Jussi Jokinen will be representing the Panthers at this year's World Cup. Trocheck is playing alongside Ekblad on Team North America, while Barkov and Jokinen are both competing for Team Finland.

Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant, who was an All-Star and finalist for the Jack Adams trophy last season, is serving as an assistant coach for Team North America.

With only a few day left until the puck drops, here is everything else that Panthers fans need to know about 2016 World Cup of Hockey:

TEAMS

Group A
Team Canada
Team Czech Republic
Team Europe
Team USA

Group B
Team Finland
Team North America
Team Russia
Team Sweden

PANTHERS PLAYERS

Aaron Ekblad

Position: Defense

Age: 20

Team: North America

Breakdown: The highest-scoring defenseman for Team North America during the pre-tournament round, Ekblad heads into the preliminary games as the clear-cut No. 1 defenseman on the tournament's most talked about team. The 20-year-old is not only serving as an alternate captain, but also notched three points (2-1---3) in three games, including a two-goal performance against Team Europe on Sunday. A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ekblad isn't a stranger to international play, having previously won a gold medal with Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship in 2015.

Vincent Trocheck

Position: Center

Age: 23

Team: North America

Summary: A late addition to Team North America's roster, Trocheck wasted little time in establishing himself as an important player on a team full of up-and-coming superstars. The 23-year-old recorded one assist in two pre-tournament games, showcasing his immense value more on special teams rather than on the scoresheet. A key player in both of Team North America's pre-tournament victories, Trocheck played a combined 3:37 on the penalty kill, winning key faceoffs and helping his team cleanup in their own end. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Trocheck has previously competed for Team USA twice on the international stage, winning a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2013.

Aleksander Barkov

Position: Center

Age: 21

Team: Finland

Summary: Although he changed his jersey number for the tournament - from 16 to 91 - the outstanding two-way game that made Barkov a fan favorite in South Florida last season hasn't changed a bit. The 21-year-old cemented himself as Team Finland's top-line center during the pre-tournament stage, scoring a team-high three points (2-1-3) in three games, including a two-point performance against Team Sweden in the pre-tournament's opening game. Already a mainstay on the international stage, the Tampere, Finland, native has competed for Team Finland six times since 2012, earning medals at both the 2014 Winter Olympics (bronze) and 2016 IIHF World Championship (silver).

Jussi Jokinen

Position: Forward

Age: 33

Team: Finland

Summary: As one of the elder statesmen on a young Finnish squad, Jokinen is excelling both as a skater and a leader at this year's tournament. The 33-year-old, who is serving as one of Finland's alternate captains, recorded two points (1-1-2) in three pre-tournament games. A native of Kalajoki, Finland, Jokinen has competed for Team Finland at 12 international tournaments, winning six bronze medals and two gold medals.

SCHEDULE

Preliminary Round (round robin) (away team listed first)

All games at Air Canada Centre, Toronto

Saturday, Sept. 17

Team USA vs. Team Europe, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports

Team Czech Republic vs. Team Canada, 8 p.m., ESPNEWS, SN, TVA Sports

Sunday, Sept. 18

Team Sweden vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports

Team North America vs. Team Finland, 8 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports

Monday, Sept. 19

Team Europe vs. Team Czech Republic, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports

Team Russia vs. Team North America, 8 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports

Tuesday, Sept. 20

Team Finland vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports

Team Canada vs. Team USA, 8 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports

Wednesday, Sept. 21

Team North America vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports

Team Europe vs. Team Canada, 8 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports

Thursday, Sept. 22

Team Finland vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports

Team USA vs. Team Czech Republic, 8 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports

Semifinals (single elimination; A1 vs. B2, B1 vs. A2)

Saturday, Sept. 24

Semifinal 1, 7 p.m., ESPN2, CBC, TVA Sports

Sunday, Sept. 25

Semifinal 2, 1 p.m., ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports

Final (best-of-three)

Tuesday, Sept. 27

Final Game 1, 8 p.m., ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports

Thursday, Sept. 29

Final Game 2, 8 p.m., ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports

Saturday, Oct. 1

Final Game 3, 7 p.m. (if necessary), ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports

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