For six Penguins players, plus head coach Mike Sullivan, the upcoming Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks is the first of two championships they’ll be competing for in the coming months.
Beginning September 17, eight teams will vie to win the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, and many of the key figures from Pittsburgh’s current playoff run will play important roles in that tournament.
Captain Sidney Crosby will suit up for the two-time Olympic gold medal-winning Team Canada squad; Evgeni Malkin will play for the Russians; Olli Maatta and Finland will look to build upon a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics; Sweden will have a pair of hard-working forwards in Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin; and Matt Murray will be one of three goaltenders on Team North America.
Additionally, Sullivan will serve as an assistant coach for Team USA.
Not only will the North American roster have Murray, but it will also feature Whitehall, Pa. native and Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson; Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad, a two-time Stanley Cup champion who now plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets; and New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller, who is from East Palestine, Ohio.
Gibson, Saad and Miller all played youth hockey for the Pittsburgh Hornets travel program.
Before the official tournament begins, hockey fans will have the chance to experience the World Cup up close, as CONSOL Energy Center will host an exhibition doubleheader on Sept. 14.
The marquee matchup that day will be the nightcap between Canada and Russia at 7:30 p.m., a contest that will feature Crosby and Malkin playing against one another.
Earlier that day, Team North America, which is comprised of the best players age 23 or under from the United States and Canada, takes on the Czech Republic at 3:30 p.m.
All four teams will spend several days leading up to the exhibition games practicing both at CONSOL Energy Center and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Pa.
Tickets for the doubleheader are on sale now at ticketmaster.com.
In addition to Murray and the Pittsburgh kids, Team North America will have the top-two selections from the 2015 NHL Draft, centers Connor McDavid from the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, as well as the projected No. 1-overall pick in 2016, forward Auston Matthews, who skated for the Zurich SC Lions in the Swiss League this year.
The six countries participating in the World Cup are the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.
Team North America is one of two teams not made up entirely of players from the same country. The other is Team Europe, which has players from all the remaining European countries.
Penguins fans will have a chance to see some of the key figures from the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the exhibition games at CONSOL Energy Center.
Crosby’s Canadian squad is deep as usual, with Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos helping shoulder the offensive load. The Canadians lineup also features three central figures in the San Jose Sharks’ run to the Cup Final, forward Joe Thornton and defensemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Russia’s high-octane offensive lineup will be paced by Malkin and sniper Alex Ovechkin. The duo will be supported by a cast that includes two of the top Tampa Bay Lightning performers from the Eastern Conference Final, forward Nikita Kucherov and 21-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Team North America might be the most-intriguing team in the tournament, especially after adding Tampa Bay’s breakout star Jonathan Drouin to a lineup that already included Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Detroit’s Dylan Larkin and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau.
While the Czech Republic won’t have Jaromir Jagr, it will have Philadelphia Flyers star Jake Voracek, talented Lightning forward Ondrej Palat and two Sharks who figure to log major minutes against the Penguins in the Cup Final, young forward Tomas Hertl, who has pulled off some of the prettier goals in the NHL in his short career, and bruising blueliner Roman Polak.