League announces return of World Cup in 2016

John Wawrow
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio — The World Cup of Hockey will be making a long-awaited return in 2016.

The tournament will feature eight teams with the games played in Toronto before NHL training camps open in September.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association Executive Director Donald Fehr announced the tournament's return Saturday at a news conference during the league's All-Star Game weekend festivities in Columbus, Ohio. The league also announced the Bruins and Canadiens will play in the Winter Classic next year on Jan. 1 at Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots football team. It's one of several outdoor games planned for next year.

A new wrinkle will be added to the World Cup format, with two of the teams made up of multinational players. One team will consist of North American-born players under the age of 23. Another will consist of European-born players whose countries aren't represented.

The other six teams will be Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic and Finland.

The World Cup and its predecessor, the Canada Cup, have been held seven times since 1976 through 2004.

The timing of the tournament comes two years before the Winter Olympics will be held in South Korea. The NHL has not yet determined whether it will allow its players to compete in the Pyeongchang Games. Travel is an issue and could cause a lengthy break to the league's regular season.

The tournament has been a highly favored topic among all-star players.

Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter recalled his uncle Gary Suter being part of the 1996 World Cup-winning U.S. team.

"Yeah, I think it would be awesome," Suter said. "A lot of players would be excited to play in it. And I think it would be great for hockey."

Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos envisioned how special it would be to play in the World Cup in his hometown of Toronto.

"You can't ask for a better experience than that," Stamkos said. "If that comes to fruition, I'm definitely going to be the first guy that jumps on board with that."

Canada has won five of the seven tournaments, with Russia also winning in 1981.

The one caveat players had is they don't want the World Cup to be held at the expense of competing at the Olympics, which NHL players have done since the Nagano Games in 1998.

"Olympics are Olympics," Slovenian-born Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. "I don't know if that would be a good trade off."

The inclusion of two mix-national teams intrigued numerous players.

Some wondered how Canadians and Americans can set aside their longstanding cross-border rivalry.

"It definitely would be a little bit uncomfortable," said Calgary Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau, who is from New Jersey. "But at the same time, it would be a great experience getting to play against guys who have been playing in the NHL for a long time."

There would be an even larger mix of nationalities on the European All-Star team, which has the potential to feature players from Slovakia, Germany and even Latvia.

"It will be different to see, but at the same time I'm open to it," said New York Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak, who is from Slovakia. "I would say if it was 10 years ago, it would be upsetting, because 10 years ago, (Slovakia) had a lot of guys in the NHL. Right now, we got maybe 12."

Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons is the only Latvian currently in the NHL, and would be a candidate for the European All-Star squad.

The one question that stumped Girgenons was which nation's anthem would be played before games.

"That is a good question. I didn't even think that far," Girgensons said. "Maybe flip a coin."

The other NHL games to be played outdoors in 2016 include the Minnesota Wild playing the Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium on Feb. 21 and Colorado against Detroit at Coors Field in Denver on Feb. 27.