Ryan Suter still remembers his uncle, Gary Suter, donning the red, white and blue in the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996. The U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer and 1986 NHL Rookie of the Year played on a star-studded team full of American professionals such as Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Chelios and Mike Richter that beat the Canadians to win the tournament.
The Wild defenseman hoped to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, but unfortunately for Suter, the last World Cup of Hockey was in 2004. Canada beat Mikko Koivu and the Finns, and a day later the NHL lockout occurred, resulting in youngsters like Suter and now teammate and eventual U.S. Olympic captain Zach Parise spending the year in the minors.
Twelve years later, Suter, Parise and 150 others will get a chance to compete at Air Canada Centre in Toronto as the NHL and NHL Players’ Association got together to renew the popular World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
“I can’t wait,” said Suter, a two-time Olympian. “It’s pretty exciting to have a chance to play in it.”
Before NHL training camps start, the world’s top players will take part in a two-week international tournament Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016, that will feature the United States, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and two additional teams — a team of Europeans whose countries are not already represented and a 23-and-under North American all-star team that should feature such studs as Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the addition of the latter two teams “enables us to include more of the very best players in the world who might otherwise have been left out of the competition. We have concluded that this will provide the most compelling format and the most competitive and entertaining hockey with great story lines.
“The World Cup is the first step in our joint vision for international hockey. We intend to build on this World Cup with a regular schedule of World Cups, hopefully every four years, in a format that will evolve, including exhibitions and regular-season games and other yet-to-be developed events intended to grow hockey worldwide.”
The Canadian TV Network TSN reported Wednesday that ESPN has been awarded the U.S. broadcast rights over NHL TV partner NBC and Fox.
The mixed Euro team is interesting. It will give Wild players such as Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland) and Thomas Vanek (Austria) a chance to compete in the tournament.
“I’m not sure what anthem they’re going to play. Maybe the European anthem?” Niederreiter wondered.
“Maybe six or seven anthems,” Vanek said, only half-kidding.
“It’ll be interesting, especially for Switzerland,” said Niederreiter, one of the Swiss’ best players in last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. “I mean, we’re not in the European union. We use Swiss francs because we’re not in the European union, so it’s a little strange.
“Like, what kind of logo will we wear? Who’s going to coach us?”
The team could feature Slovaks Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, Jaroslav Halak and Tomas Tatar; Slovenian Anza Kopitar; Swiss players Roman Josi, Jonas Hiller and Mark Streit; Austrians Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl; German Christian Ehrhoff; Latvian Zemgus Girgensons, and Danes Mikkel Boedker and Frans Nielsen.
“Looking at the potential roster, it looks like we’d have a pretty good team,” Niederreiter said. “I just wish there was some kind of prequalification maybe in the summer or early September because Switzerland has 11 or 12 NHLers and has been good in the world championships and Olympics.”
Vanek said: “It’s a weird concept because it’s always nice to represent your country, but at the same time, this gives guys like myself from Austria the opportunity to compete in the World Cup we probably wouldn’t have had.”
Split from the Olympics?
The big question is whether the World Cup means the eventual end of the NHL’s participation in the Olympics. Bettman says it has no bearing, but it’s no secret that NHL owners don’t want to go to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea in large part because of injuries that took place in Sochi, the 14-hour time difference and the stopping of the momentum of the NHL season. In fact, the Wild was one of a number of teams that voted against going to Sochi.
“After the last Olympics, I got the impression, for no reason, I just felt like that was going to be the last one we were going to,” Parise said. “But I honestly have no idea. It’s not ideal. We all get that. It’s that time of year where hockey’s the only thing going on.
“The Super Bowl ended, spring training hasn’t started, so hockey should be taking center stage, and to stop the season for three weeks isn’t ideal. We understand that.”
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in November: “An Olympics in South Korea is probably a lower priority just simply because they don’t play the game, it’s not endemic there, it’s a long way away, it’s a lot of travel, it’s a big hole in the season. I’m not even sure the appetite is the same from the South Korea organizing committee to make hockey a big deal.”
Always thinking ahead, though, Parise said the World Cup could lead to a tremendous start to the 2016-17 NHL season.
“I think those guys that get to take part in the World Cup will have a huge advantage coming into the season because they’ll be playing at a high pace right away,” Parise said.