DETROIT – For just the third time in the history of the sport, the NHL plans to bring back the World Cup of Hockey.
But this time, the tournament comes with a twist.
Next September, the World Cup will feature two non-traditionally made up teams. One will consist of American and Canadian players ages 23 years old and younger, while Team Europe will be a group of all-stars from as many as 10 different nations. The rest of the eight-team field will feature traditional hockey powers from the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic at a two-week tournament in Toronto beginning on Sept. 17.
Having Team Europe means an all-NHL group made up of players from countries like Austria, Belarus, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
Red Wings players like Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco – both from Slovakia – as well as perhaps French-born defenseman Xavier Ouellet could be on the Team Europe roster.
“There’s many players from these countries in the NHL,” Tatar said. “They will have a tough job to pick 20 guys to make the team. You never know what type of season you’re going to have. Somebody might explode and have a great season and out of nowhere he can make that team. So I think it’s wide open.”
Adding the North American and European teams, Tatar says, makes sense for a couple of reasons. It creates a large enough field of teams, but also promotes – hopefully – better competition in all 17 games that will be played at Air Canada Centre.
“Our little counties like Switzerland or Slovakia just don’t have enough players in the league at the moment,” Tatar added. “We could see it at the Olympics, we lost to the U.S. seven to one, so I feel just the U.S. and Canada at the moment are really strong. I feel they want to tighten it up and make it interesting for the (fans). I think Team Europe can be really strong. … It can be a really good team, and maybe one of the best in the tournament.”
The games will be played under NHL rules and not those of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which governs the annual World Championships and the Winter Olympics. Next fall’s tourney will occur prior to the NHL preseason, which, unlike the World Championships, means all of the best players in the world will be available.
“I haven’t played in something like this for a long time at the start of a season,” Tatar said. “I guess you just have to start skating a little earlier to get ready for it. Just make sure you will be healthy and ready for the tournament.”
It’s been three years since Teemu Pulkkinen last played in a major international tournament. The Red Wings’ young forward is excited at possibly representing Finland again, though, this time on a much bigger stage.
“It’s going to be a good tournament for players before the season, to get some games before the season starts,” Pulkkinen said. “But then again, it’s not like a practice tournament, everybody wants to win, and everybody is playing hard. It think it’s good that it’s at the beginning of the season so everybody’s fresh and we’ll see good hockey there.”
This week, the 23-year-old – who last season became the first player in Grand Rapids history to produce at least 30 goals in consecutive campaigns – appeared on a list of projected players for Team Finland.
“It’s obviously nice to be on the list, but it doesn’t matter to be on the list,” said Pulkkinen, who represented Finland in the 2011 and 2012 World Junior Championships. “You have to make it. It’s just names right now. We have to see how the season is going and who’s healthy. We have no idea who’s playing there, but obviously it’s nice to be on the list, but it doesn’t matter right now.”