The Rio Olympics are in the rearview mirror, but the puck is about to drop on another international competition: the World Cup of Hockey, a star-studded eight-team tournament revived by the NHL and the players association.
The World Cup, which will be held in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, is the third installment of a similarly named event that debuted 20 years ago.
A little history: Professional athletes weren’t allowed to participate in the Olympic Games until 1986, so the Canada Cup was created to fill a hockey void. It was played five times between 1976 and 1991 and replaced by the first World Cup in 1996.
That tournament was won by Team USA, captained by Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, defeating Canada, 5-2, in Game 3 of the best-of-three finals behind extraordinary goaltending by the Rangers’ Mike Richter, who was named Most Valuable Player.
A second World Cup was staged in various venues, some in Europe, in 2004, and won by Canada, with Devils icon Martin Brodeur in goal.
This month’s tournament at Air Canada Centre features about 180 NHL players and coaches, including about a dozen Rangers, Islanders and Devils, who report to various training camps in America and overseas this weekend. NHL camps don’t open until Sept. 22, during the tournament.
Four goalies from the three local NHL teams — Henrik Lundqvist (Team Sweden), Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss (Team Europe) and Cory Schneider (Team USA) — and two captains, John Tavares (Canada) and Ryan McDonagh (USA), will lace up the skates. So will forwards Derek Stepan (USA), Mats Zuccarello (Europe), J.T. Miller (North America U23), Nikolay Kulemin (Russia) and Kyle Palmieri (USA).
Islanders bench boss Jack Capuano and the Devils’ John Hynes are assistant coaches for the U.S. team under former Rangers coach John Tortorella.
Similar to the Olympics, there are two groups of four teams. Canada, USA, Czech Republic and Team Europe are in Group A. Sweden, Russia, Finland and a North American squad of players age 23 and under are in Group B. The top two in each group after the round robin will advance to the semifinals. The finals are best-of-three and will end either Sept. 29 or Oct. 1, midway through the NHL preseason schedule.
Six of the eight teams assembled for the World Cup played in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi — USA, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic — and about half of those Olympians remain on the rosters. In 2014, when Canada won gold by beating Sweden, 3-0, in the championship game, there were 25-man rosters. For this shorter tournament, the World Cup has 23-man rosters, so teams have 13 forwards rather than 14, seven defensemen instead of eight, and three goalies.
Team Europe is a smorgasbord of players from countries other than Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. Nineteen of the 23 players are from four countries (Slovakia, six; Germany, five; Switzerland and Denmark, four each). Zuccarello, from Norway, is on this squad, as are the Isles’ goalies.
Team North America is an All-Star squad from Canada and the United States. The roster includes five No. 1 overall draft picks and three No. 2 overall selections. Fourteen players on the roster are from six teams: the Jets, Blue Jackets, Flyers, Oilers, Flames and Maple Leafs. Players from nine other teams, including Miller (15th overall in 2011), also were named.
Injuries could impact NHL clubs, especially teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, who each have 11 players in the tournament.
“We have a fair amount of knowledge about how this works from previous World Cups and from Olympic participation,” NHL commissioner Gary Bett man said in August. “Our athletes . . . treat their profession as a 12-month-a-year requirement . . . They will be in great shape and they’ll continue their mastery throughout the season.”
ESPN will televise the tournament, including a dozen pretournament games. For viewers, two tweaks to note beyond the action: Data collected by player-tracking and puck-tracking chips will add to the coverage and the sport’s analytical base. A small sponsor logo has been added to the shoulders of game jerseys, but not on those for sale.