I’ll be the first to admit, I was very skeptical of the World Cup of Hockey format when it was first announced. Aside from the whole thing being an obvious cash grab and a way to leverage the International Olympic Committee, the announced teams were odd. Team North America Under 23’s seemed an obvious point to criticize: the fact that a geographical and age group was competing against established hockey nations such as Russia was just laughable.
However, Team North America has won me, and many other hockey fans, over. Even though they’ve been eliminated from contention, they’re showing how hockey should be played in the future.
The style of hockey that they play is remarkable: extremely quick up and down the ice, with no chance for the other team to respond. Ever since the lockout of 2005, the game of hockey has been transitioning from a game of grit and physicality to one of speed and skill. Despite hockey being played in this vein for over a decade, it’s taken this long for a generation of players to grow up playing with these new rules to showcase the new age of hockey.
Players like Connor McDavid exhibit this new style of hockey perfectly. He may already be the fastest skater in the NHL, and he’s only 19. The speed at which he plays the game is incredible, and you can make the case that he’s already the second best hockey player in the world right now.
Johnny Gaudreau is another fine example. Only 5’9” and 157 pounds, he was looked over in his draft year and taken in the fourth round.
Ten to 15 years ago, a small player probably would not have worked out. But with his speed and dynamic play, he can avoid dangerous plays on the ice despite his size. As he so eloquently put it, you can’t hit what you can’t catch. The fact that they beat Finland, the 2014 Olympic Bronze medalists, further cements the point that the youth movement is alive and well in today’s game.
For ages, traditional hockey minds have always preached about experience. The notion goes that you need some veteran presence within a team to achieve anything, and that too many young players need to learn “how to win” in order to succeed. Team North America has destroyed this age-old convention. The fact that a team of players under 23 years of age performed admirably in the group stage should make NHL GMs take notice.
No longer should teams feel the need to sacrifice youth for experience; it’s proven to be nothing but smoke. Even though it’s a meaningless preseason tournament, Team North America is showcasing the future of the sport — one that is focused on youth and skill.