The preliminary World Cup of Hockey roster came out last week. And that’s really getting me excited for September! It’s going to be great to watch some world class hockey before the NHL season even begins. Boy is it going to be fun to put the TV on and root against America.


Did I just say that? Root against team USA? In any sporting event…ever?! THE HELL I SAY!

But I feel like a lot of hockey fans in Pittsburgh may be put in that situation at some point during this tournament because of its funky format.

The World Cup features six traditional teams (USA/CAN/SWE/FIN/CZE/RUS). But then there are squads called “TEAM EUROPE” and the “NORTH AMERICAN YOUNGSTARS” (comprised of American and Canadian players who won’t reach age 24 before 10/1/16) rounding out the field.

The Team Europe thing I kinda get. If you want to slot in an eighth team that is representative of deeper NHL talent I can see throwing together a hodgepodge group of the non “Power 4” European countries. Although I’d suggest Slovakia could ice its own team just fine. And so could a combination of nations besides Russia that made up the former Soviet Union. Those two teams wouldn’t win. But, let’s face it, neither will “Team Europe.”

The North American Youngstars team concept is just silly though. Allegedly, international competition is supposed to be determining what nation is the best at a given sport. But in this set up, Americans are potentially going to compete against other Americans. And Canadians are potentially going to compete against other Canadians. If three of the final 4 teams alive for gold are Canada, Team USA, and Team North America, can you really make a determination of international superiority if John Gibson is stopping shots from Patrick Kane? Or if Shea Weber is checking Connor McDavid into the boards?

Don’t split the rosters. Force the club coaches and GMs to make these difficult decisions. If Jack Eichel isn’t good enough to make Team USA, then he’s just not good enough yet. If McDavid is better than Claude Giroux, then put him on and leave off Giroux.

Sticking with the McDavid-on-North America theme as an example, if this thinking had been in place before the 2010 Olympics, kid-Canada Sidney Crosby wouldn’t have won the gold for Canada in the Olympics. His Golden Goal against Team USA wouldn’t have happened because he was only 22 and would have been tucked away on the 23 and under North American Youngstars team.


And, as referenced earlier, rooting interests could get completely turned around in the semi finals, especially for Pittsburghers. There are no Penguins on the American roster as of yet (Phil Kessel may still be added when the roster expands by seven before June 1st). Meanwhile Penguin Goalie Matt Murray made the North American roster. Local kids Brandon Saad, John Gibson, and JT Miller all made the Youngstars team. Vince Trocheck may get added too.

I’m sorry, but it’s going to be hard for me to avoid rooting for that North American team in the semis or the finals even if Team USA is on the other bench. If Gibson robs Ryan McDonagh, what am I going to do? Stop my gut reaction of cheering out loud? If Saad blasts one past Ben Bishop, should I groan and throw something at the TV?

I fully understand the logic. This is now an NHL/NHLPA venture as opposed to be being staged by the IIHF. So the league and its union want as much exposure and opportunity for as many of their players as possible. They want to maximize marketing two extra rosters of mainly NHL player jerseys to hang on the racks of team stores in every arena of the league. And of course, adding a second team of Canadian and American players means Canadians and Americans are more likely to turn on their televisions more often because the nationalistic rooting interest will double on both sides of the border.

But when it comes to international play nationalism usually trumps logic. And jingoism is a healthy incentive to invest your emotions. That unique type of enjoyment for fans gets compromised when you are rooting against your own country. Or in this case, roughly 50% of your own country. If the Youngstars should face off against the Americans or Canadians somewhere in the Final Four or the championship best of three, it may feel more like an All Star Game than a “win at all cost in the name of your country” event like we’ve experienced in the States in 1960, 1980, and 2010.

For instance, if Canada beats team North America for Gold, is Canada the best and second best hockey country in the world? Surely Canada probably already thinks that anyway, but I’m confused. Is America “third and a half best” then?!

Which anthem gets to be played if team North America wins? Can Le’Veon Bell’s album producers come up with a super hip mash up of “Oh, Canada” and “The Star Spangled Banner”? Maybe sing the American anthem…but do it half in French? Or how about they just play “American Woman” from the Guess Who. After all, that’s a song with America in the title, recorded by a Canadian band.

The Olympics are as successful as they are for a very simple reason. There are few things more enjoyable for a sports fan than cheering for their country in elite international competition. There is nothing more basic and easy than waving your flag. This format has unnecessarily complicated that. Just about all hockey fans will still watch. I know I will. But attempting to increase the quality of rosters may, in a strange way, dilute the passion people will have when following the tournament.

Especially when the games feature the USA & Canada vs…you know…their slightly younger selves.

Posted in Pittsburgh Penguins