We are closing in on the start of the NHL season, which opens at SAP Center in just 59 days on Oct. 12. But before we get to the hockey that really matters, we get an interesting preseason tournament.
The World Cup of Hockey, in its pseudo-inaugural run, will feature the United States, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Team North America, Team Europe and the Czech Republic and will run from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1. Is anyone excited for this?
I hope so. While I’ve never been big on international hockey, with the Americans insistence on running a terrible team playing a role I’m sure, we’ll be running daily profiles on the tournament starting Monday now that our 25 under 25 series is over.
The tournament will certainly be a hit in Canada, where the host country will be prohibitive favorites, and Russia never shies away from a chance to flex their muscles on the world stage. However many smaller European countries may feel hard done by in the new format, which the NHL certainly hopes constitutes an excuse to keep its players from heading to the Olympics.
In the United States? It’s always hard to gauge. Hockey is, by nature, a niche sport in this country and even fans of the NHL aren’t necessarily passionate Team USA supporters. We like winning and the United States just hasn’t done that on the international level, which I’m sure stunts the popularity of any competition.
But this is a bit of a different animal than the Olympics, where other events that the United States performs better in gets more of the spotlight. The NHL has an opportunity to go after its target audience, which seems to be existing hockey fans, free of the distractions that come with the Olympic Games. How successful that will be... remains to be seen.
Most important to the NHL, unsurprisingly, is money. The NHL sponsors this tournament, along with the NHL, and will rake in piles of cash through TV deals and ticket sales in hockey’s capital. So quite frankly, this is a net win for the league whether we watch or don’t — an unavoidably cynical truth, I’m aware.
There is reason to be excited for this tournament, if for no other reason than the high number of Sharks involved. That’s why I’ll be watching — that and getting a hockey fix I just can’t get from non-televised preseason hockey.
I hope over the coming weeks you get to learn a thing or two about the other nations involved, I know I will, and that you at least tolerate our attempt to pass the time before the hockey we really care about comes back.