Hockey fans no longer have to wait until the next Winter Olympics in South Korea to witness exciting action between the world’s best players on an international stage.
The 2016 World Cup of Hockey begins Saturday with the first preliminary round games.
Host Canada, as expected, is the favorite (see the odds below). That said, the gap is not as large as it normally is during Olympic competition, and some non-Olympic wrinkles in this tournament — such as the U-23 North American team and Team Europe combined squad — could make it difficult to predict the winner.
The entire tournament will take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Check out our full preview of the competition below.
Odds (via OddsShark)
Here are the latest betting odds to win the tournament.
North America U23 +1200
Czech Republic +2500
Team Europe +3300
Here are our predictions for the preliminary round. The winner of Group A plays the Group B runner-up in one semifinal, and the Group B winner plays the Group A runner-up in the other semifinal.
2) United States
3) Team Europe
4) Czech Republic
2) Team North America
Canada (A1) defeats Team North America (B2)
Sweden (B1) defeats United States (A2)
Canada defeats Sweden in a 2014 Olympic men’s hockey gold medal game rematch. The two-time defending Olympic champions have too much offensive firepower, a balanced blue line and two of the league’s top five goalies in Carey Price and Corey Crawford. And by the way, Mike Babcock arguably is the best head coach in the NHL, and his assistant is former Stanley Cup-winning bench boss Claude Julien.
Team To Watch
Team North America will be so fun to watch. This U-23 squad featuring the best young Canadian and American players already has shown in the exhibition games that its fast-paced, highly skilled roster creates lots of scoring.
Team NA scored 13 goals and allowed six in just three pre-tournament games, including a 7-4 thrashing of Team Europe. Just the incredibly talented line of Johnny Gaudreau-Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel is enough to give this team a look.
If you want to see the next wave of great NHL players, this team is well worth watching. Some of these players already are worthy of superstar status.
Henrik Sedin, Center, Sweden
Sedin is a veteran of international play, and his linemates, twin brother Daniel and Loui Eriksson, are perfectly suited to take advantage of his world-class playmaking ability. This line should get a ton of ice time at even strength and on the power play, so there will be plenty of opportunities for scoring. The Sedins started about 60 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone last season for the Vancouver Canucks, and that shouldn’t change much in this tournament.
Sure, Canada has players who are more skilled than Sedin, including Sidney Crosby, but the team’s extraordinary depth should allow it to roll four lines pretty consistently and play the hot trio.
Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images