STEVE SIMMONS, POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Sept 15, 2016
The best goalie in the world. The best defenceman in the world. The best centre in the world. The best on-ice leader in the world.
Maybe the best coach in the world — and if not the best coach, certainly the best coaching staff.
How exactly does Team Canada not win the World Cup of Hockey?
They have Carey Price in goal. They have the easier of the two tournament draws. They have Drew Doughty on defence. They still have the easier tournament draw. They have Sidney Crosby, looking just like he looked upon winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. And yeah, they have Jonathan Toews, who wins just about everything.
Only two things can really beat Canada in this tournament. One, is Canada. The other is a red-hot opposing goalie. And the belief here is that neither of those are likely to happen.
Welcome to the World Cup of Hockey, a semi-contrived, made-for-September television event, set up to make a buck or three for the NHL and the NHLPA and to make Canadians feel great, yet again, about hockey.
And for part of a day or two we can put our collective Blue Jays angst aside and focus elsewhere.
This is a terrific event, but understand this: these are not the Olympic Games.
The feel is completely different. A different buzz. A different pressure. More than one Canadian player chuckled Thursday when I asked them about the pressure of playing at home.
You want pressure? Try winning hockey in Vancouver in 2010 with a whole country holding its breath. That’s pressure. Or, as Mike Babcock called it Thursday, it’s not pressure, it’s privilege.
This isn’t the Olympics. But don’t tell that to Dean Lombardi, general manager of Team USA. He all but choked up Thursday when trying to explain how much it meant to him to represent the United States. He couldn’t finish his sentences or complete his thoughts.
We can be cynical all we want about this World Cup of Hockey. Clearly, he isn’t.
This started way back as the Canada Cup, before Alan Eagleson turned it into a personal account and the name had to be changed to World Cup. But even that felt different than this. That was more us versus them. It didn’t matter who “them” was. Whomever they were, they were the hockey enemy. There was tension and intrigue to those events — and with it a whole lot of unknown.
It wasn’t Carey Price vs. Patrick Kane or Alex Ovechkin or Erik Karlsson. We can turn on our television sets any day of the hockey season and watch them play. We know their games. We know their styles. There should be no “who is that guy?” performances here.
We know just about everybody worth knowing.
But we didn’t know who Viktor Zhluktov was when he tied Bobby Orr and Denis Potvin for the scoring lead in the 1976 Canada Cup?
And we didn’t know about Vladimir Dzurilla when Darryl Sittler scoring on him in overtime to win gold in 1976?
And we didn’t know who Sergei Shepelev was when he scored three goals on Mike Liut in the final of 1981?
And we didn’t know a whole lot about Sergei Makarov when he finished just behind Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in scoring at the 1987 Canada Cup.
There was a certain built-in fear about the unknown back then. It was natural. We feared the country/opponent name. We feared the players whose names we barely knew.
Now it’s house-league tournament time, with the NHL being the house league in question.
Six countries plus one continent of a certain age group and eight different countries acting as one with Team Europe. You can go gaga over Team Canada, and there will be a point in almost every tournament when we become oh so annoyingly Canadian.
But, in between then and now, we can sit back and enjoy Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly playing for North America; James van Riemsdyk skating for Team USA; Roman Polak working hard with Milan Michalek on the Czech Republic team; and Leo Komarov creating some time of havoc for Finland.
This is the newest version of Leaf training camp. You can watch it from home.
“These are NHL players first and foremost,” said Ralph Krueger, the Canadian coaching Team Europe here. “This is an NHL tournament.”
“I’m starting to feel normal again,” said Price, maybe the world’s best hockey player. “At the end of the last (exhibition) game, I started to feel normal again.”
That means he’s relaxed. That means he’s ultra calm again.
“He has that look,” said Steven Stamkos. “He just calms you down. He’s not worried so you’re not worried.
“You come off the ice after practice and you think ‘I didn’t score today.’ Then you think ‘why didn’t I score today?’ Then you realize, Carey Price is out there.”
The best goalie in the world. And Sidney and Stamkos and Doughty and Toews and John Tavares and more and more and more.
How does Team Canada not win the World Cup? How?