Imagine this: A sold out CONSOL Energy Center cheering loudly next September as the opening faceoff is taken between Sidney Crosby…and Evgeni Malkin.
That’s a serious possibility as Pittsburgh was selected as one of a chosen few cities by the NHL and NHLPA to host practices and exhibition games for next year’s World Cup of Hockey.
“It’s another feather in our cap both from the city’s perspective and the hockey perspective,” said Travis Williams, Penguins Chief Operating Officer. “The city of Pittsburgh has shown it can host world-class events, whether it’s sporting, political or cultural events, and has done a phenomenal job in doing that.
“(Pittsburgh) has been one of the largest growth markets for USA Hockey in terms of enrollment and kids continuing in the programs. We’ve done a lot at the NHL level to increase and engage our fan base and show that we’re truly a hockey town.”
The games will feature a double header of Canada-Russia at 7:30 p.m. and North American-Czech Republic at 3:30 p.m. at CONSOL Energy Center on Wednesday, Sept. 14.
“To have (Crosby and Malkin) faceoff against one another in international competition would be nothing short of spectacular for our fans,” Williams said. “It’s neat to see them in a completely different environment playing for their countries as opposed to the Penguins.”
The best talent in the world will be showcased in Pittsburgh. Canada has won the gold medal in the last two Olympic Games (2010 in Vancouver, 2014 in Sochi). Russia features some of the best players in the game with Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. The ageless Jaromir Jagr could suit up for Czech Republic. And next generational talents Conor McDavid and Jack Eichel will likely represent North American.
All four teams will spend the week in Pittsburgh with two practicing at CONSOL Energy Center and the other two at the new state-of-the-art UPMC Sports Complex in Cranberry. The teams will arrive on Monday, practice Monday, Tuesday and play the double-header on Wednesday. All four teams will hold a final practice on Thursday before heading to the opening ceremonies in Toronto.
All NHL markets were able to bid to host training camp or an exhibition game or a pre-competition camps.
“We bid on (hosting the pre-competition camp) because we thought it would be really unique to see these teams play against one another, and really interesting to host these teams for an extended period of time,” Williams said. “To be able to put two international teams in (UPMC Lemieux) and two teams practice at CONSOL for that week is a unique opportunity and something great for our fan base.”
The Pens are hoping to have some ancillary events surrounding the games and practices, though plans have yet to be finalized.
The World Cup of Hockey will be held in Toronto with eight teams competing for the international hockey championships – Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Europe, North America (players aged 23 and younger from Canada and U.S.), Russia, Sweden and the United States. Preliminary Round action begins Sept. 17.
Training camp for the participating teams will begin Sept. 4-5. Each team will play three exhibition games.