International competition has long brought out the best in the sport of hockey, and the NHL is hoping to rejuvenate old magic when the World Cup of Hockey returns this fall.
Two faces of the Nashville Predators franchise in Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne are set to take part after being named to Team Canada and Team Finland, respectively, on Wednesday, while up-and-coming stars in Filip Forsberg (Sweden) and Roman Josi (Team Europe) will also join their NHL teammates for the eight-team tournament.
Following a 12-year hiatus, the World Cup will be held in Toronto this September, and for Rinne, watching the 2004 World Cup as a 21-year-old only helped to build his excitement to participate in the event this year.
“The Finns were actually in the final against Canada; they beat the Finns, I think it was 2-1,” the Predators goalie said of the 2004 World Cup. “I remember watching that game and that tournament. To me, that is the biggest tournament for hockey, obviously the Olympics too, but this is just for hockey. It makes it special; just the fact that it’s being played up in Canada, it’s a very cool thing and I'm really looking forward to it.”
Currently the Predators leading scorer and the NHL’s reigning First Star of the Week, Forsberg joins a talent-packed Swedish roster. Team Sweden General Manager Tommy Boustedt said via conference call on Wednesday that a record number of Swedish players present in the NHL makes his job even easier in selecting a balanced and skilled roster.
“We have 83 players in the National League. We've never had that many players before, and that's a new world record for European countries,” Boustedt said. “We have 83 players in the National Hockey League right now, and I think we can put together a pretty strong team, both with older players and younger players and offensive players and defensive-skilled players and tough players and more technical players and so on.”
The youngest player on Sweden’s preliminary, 16-man roster, Forsberg has already skated for Team Sweden in several international competitions, including finishing second in goal-scoring at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, but the 21-year-old says playing in the World Cup would be a career highlight.
“It’s unbelievable to be a part of this. Growing up watching all of these players, and playing with a few of them and playing against all of them here in the NHL, it’s pretty extraordinary to be a part of that,” Forsberg said. “It’s probably going to be one of the best tournaments that’s ever been played in hockey history. It’s going to be a great experience for everyone that’s a part of it.”
A member of the veteran pair of World Cup-bound Preds, Rinne knows what it takes to succeed at the international level. He also knows the current playoff push for the Preds is what comes first, and if the future plays out properly, both the World Cup and playing in the Stanley Cup Final could go hand in hand.
“[I’ve been in] the World Championships a bunch of times, but this is a whole different atmosphere. As a player, it was a goal of mine going into the season and into the next season, to be on this World Cup team,” Rinne said. “Hopefully this year we make a long run and we play deep until June and I don’t have to worry about training too much. You have to treat the summer a little differently, and I'm sure it’s a good way to start the season, something to look forward to.”