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2016 World Cup of Hockey Preview and Predictions

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The world of hockey is about to collide. Who will come out on top?

World Cup Of Hockey 2016 - Team Sweden Practice Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

At long last, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is upon us!

The NHL announced the event about this time last year and hockey fans everywhere have been drooling in their official logo’d apparel in anticipation ever since. After a couple weeks of practices—and a handful of occasionally chippy warm-up games—everyone appears ready to go on Saturday.

Here’s what you can look forward to!

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Who: World Cup o’ Hockey
What: An eight-team int’l hockey tournament featuring the world’s best players
Where: Toronto, ON Canada
Why: Because more hockey, that’s why!
When: September 17th – October 1st, 2016

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Group A

United States

A rough and tumble group led by coach John Tortorella threw down the gauntlet early in the exhibition games and appear ready to fight for the title by any means necessary.

Roster

Featured Avalanche: Defenseman Erik Johnson

Why they can win

Team USA is unconcerned with your preconceptions of international hockey competitions—a light checking skill team this is not. John Tortorella is a mean son-of-a-gun and he has a roster of capable NHLers following his example heading into round robin play. They’re going to knock a lot of these offense-first teams off their skates and still have enough skill to put games away. A solid lineup of goalies gives them as good a chance as any to go all the way.

Why they won’t win

While players like David Backes and Ryan Kessler are busy trying to bury their opponents into the glass, other teams will feature more overall skill and get their fair share of goals. A defense comprised of players like Dustin Byfuglien and Jack Johnson are also going to struggle to keep shots off their own net.

Canada

Many a hockey let out a long whistle when looking over Team Canada’s roster for the first time—and for good reason. It’s even better than an all-star team in many ways.

Roster

Featured Avalanche: Forward Matt Duchene

Why they can win

This is about as stacked of a team as it gets. There are fourth-liners on this roster that would be clear top-six forward for any other country in the tournament. How does a coach even match lines when the other side is throwing over an onslaught of Crosby, Stamkos, Thornton, Getzlaf, Couture, Bergeron, Duchene, and on and on? The answer is: you don’t. You just hope they miss the net enough times to give you a chance.

Why they won’t win

There’s a reason we sometimes see teams loaded with superstars fail to meet lofty expectations. Players who are generally expected to carry the load on their professional club are often relegated to a support role, and the result isn’t always pretty. Can Canada overcome five skaters always trying to do everything themselves? We’ll see. Hockey fans will also find out if goaltending will once again be an issue for the Canadian national team. Can Carey Price shake the rust off coming back from injury? Are his backups Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford up to the task if not?

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic’s roster features four players who don’t even have photos on their profile. And the names on the roster you do know aren’t exactly household names.

Roster

Featured Avalanche: None

Why they can win

They can win because the world needs a miracle far surpassing anything that has ever occurred in the sport. It would be Miracle on Ice plus The Mighty Ducks plus D2: The Mighty Ducks and every other impossible Hollywood scenario all rolled up into one mushy turn of impossible events. Fate conspires against us all!

Why they won’t win

Being the only continental European team that has to fill its own roster hurts. The Czech Republic has a long history of playing competitive international hockey, but they’re not likely to live up to it this year. Other teams are fielding much more talented rosters.

Team Europe

Every other continental European country got lumped into one squad to make it more competitive. The result is a group of intriguing names that don’t have a lot of experience together.

Roster

Featured Avalanche: None

Why they can win

There is enough talent on this roster comprised of Slovaks, Danes, Germans, Slovenians, and whatever else they could find to maybe—and I mean maybe—steal a game from a non-Czech Republic squad in this group if a Team USA or Canada is half asleep and looking toward the playoff rounds, but the scenario isn’t likely.

Why they won’t win

Team Europe’s biggest names are players like Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara, who are 37 and 39-years-old. While there are also younger stars like Anze Kopitar and Roman Josi on the roster, there just isn’t enough firepower here to advance past Team USA and Canada. The goaltending situation on this team is also as poor as any team in the tournament.

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Group B

Team North America

Team USA and Canada’s biggest stars age 23 or younger were all thrown on one roster and the result should strike terror in the eyes of the experienced teams in Group B, if not their older peers in Group A.

Roster

Featured Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon

Why they can win

One of the main reasons why Team North America could walk out of the World Cup of Hockey tournament as champions is because of their ability to overwhelm other teams with their speed. Look for Team NA to take full advantage of this and use it to beat other teams on both sides of the ice.

Why they won’t win

As much as youth can and should be an advantage for Team NA, it is also the team's largest disadvantage. When they’re skating against the better teams in the tournament, they will lack the many years of international experience of their competition. Ultimately it will be the battle of youth versus experience for Team NA in this tournament.

Team Finland

Suomi! Apparently no one told Finland that Team NA was supposed to be the ‘young guns’ of the tournament, because they feature a roster nearly as fresh and baby faced as their Group B rivals.

Roster

Featured Avalanche: Not Mikko Rantanen, if you can believe it!

Why they can win

Finland has sported arguably the best junior development program in all of hockey for a number a years now. After a considerable amount of international junior success, the big team now gets to see some of the fruits of that labor. Saddled up alongside veterans like Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula are exciting talents like Patrik Laine, Aleksander Barkov, and Sabastian Aho. Would it really be a huge surprise to see this team emerge out of Group B to compete in the playoff rounds?

Why they won’t win

Again, youth is going to a major wrench in their hopes to compete with some of the more established teams in their group. If Finland doesn’t pull it off this year, no one should be disappointed, because this is going to be a team to beat in these events for the next half-decade or more. Getting more solid goaltending will also be a priority moving forward, though I wouldn’t dismiss a strong stretch of games from Rask and Rinne either.

Team Russia

Team Russia remains loaded with household names and top-end talent, but do they have the depth to compete with the top teams in the tournament, let alone the up-and-coming teams in their group?

Roster

Featured Avalanche: Goalie Semyon Varlamov

Why they can win

Any team featuring world-class players like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Vladimir Tarasenko has a chance to win any time they take the ice. The team also sports a deep stable of goalies who, though inconsistent, are capable of being among the best in the game for stretches. Throw in veteran talent like Pavel Datsyuk and up-and-comers like Nikita Kucherov and there will be plenty of skill and scoring flying around Toronto next week.

Why they won’t win

For as much talent as Russia features in their forward group, it’s a shame they can’t find back-end pieces to compliment all that firepower. Their defense is so light we couldn’t help but wonder on last week’s MHH Podcast if Avalanche blue liner Nikita Zadorov couldn’t have been an asset. Russia can (and should) make it to the playoff rounds, but it’s hard to see them doing much damage at the point against better teams.

Team Sweden

Featuring by far the most talented defensive group in the tournament, Sweden is primed to win a lot of low-scoring games at the hands of a crafty, veteran forward group and the netminding heroics of Henrik Lundqvist.

Roster

Featured Avalanche: Forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Soderberg

Why they can win

Besides the fact that they feature not one, but TWO, Avalanche players?! It’s because this is the most solid group of two-way players in the tournament. While the rest are largely comprised of scorers and playmakers, Sweden’s forward group does their part on the back check too. Even to the most casual hockey fan, this team is going to look the most an NHL product on the ice and that should be a considerable advantage against the more one-dimensional teams in their group. This is a team that should emerge from Group B and should be taking on Team USA or Canada for the title.

Why they won’t win

As solid and well-rounded as Tre Kroner appears to be headed into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, one can’t help but wonder if those pesky 23-and-unders on Team North America might just just have more high-end talent. Either way, it’s hard to see this team missing the tournament.