While the Stanley Cup playoffs get most of our attention in May, here are some fun facts and reasons to keep an eye on the World Championship.
As far as international hockey tournaments go, the world championships isn’t very high on the excitement meter. It’s a big deal to many European players, but in North America, holding a tournament in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not a good way to generate hype.
We know that it’s not truly a best-on-best event, that will happen in September during the World Cup. But there are some interesting aspects to the tournament. One of which is that it’s a 16-team event. It makes for a long tournament, but it also means you get to see hockey minnows such as Hungary and France take on Canada and the United States. Blowouts can be fun.
The event, being held in Moscow and St. Petersburgh, starts with a bang on Friday with the U.S. facing Canada (9:15 a.m. ET, TSN). Here are some fun facts and reasons to keep an eye on the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Anyway, after an impressive season in the Swiss league Matthews is joining a U.S. world championship team that isn’t exactly stacked with high-end NHL talent. He should get regular ice time and another opportunity to showcase himself against men.
Patrik Laine, Finland: Like Matthews, Laine is another top prospect, who is expected to go No. 2 in the draft. Laine was just named MVP of the Finnish league playoffs, and joins the men’s national team after helping lead Finland to a gold at the world juniors in January. Laine is the youngest player in the tournament.
Connor McDavid, Canada: He only played 45 NHL games due to an injury, so McDavid will keep his season going in Russia. He should get top-line minutes with Oilers teammate Taylor Hall, and be Canada’s offensive leading despite being only 19.
FAMILIAR NAMES IN STRANGE PLACES
Kazakhstan won the Division 1A tournament in 2015 to earn promotion to the main event this year. If you cruise their roster you won’t see any NHLers but will notice three somewhat prominent North American players suiting up for the team.
Dawes was a fifth-round pick of the Rangers in 2003 and was on Canada’s stacked 2005 world junior championship team that won gold. He played in 212 NHL games and has been playing in the KHL since 2011.
Boyd won gold with Canada’s world junior team in 2006 and played in 220 NHL games after being drafted by the Flames in the third round in 2004. Bochenski played 156 NHL games and was, hilariously, and famously Don Cherry’s pick to win the Calder Trophy in 2005-06, the same rookie year as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
All three players are teammates with the KHL’s Barys Astana, in Kazakhstan’s capital city.
WELCOME BACK, HUNGARY
Hungary is back in the main draw of the tournament for the first time since 2009 and just the second time since the 1930s. It will probably be short lived. Hungary is ranked 19th in the latest IIHF world rankings and have to be favorites for relegation.
The Hungarian team has a combined 32 games of NHL experience, but they all belong to Frank Banham. Banham, at 41, is the oldest player in the tournament. He had a cup of tea with the Mighty Ducks in the late 1990s, scoring nine goals in 21 games in 1998. He has been playing in Europe since 2003, mostly in the Austrian league.
Cheer a little bit for Hungary. Beautiful country.
SPEAKING OF OLD GUYS…
Did you know goalie Cristobal Huet is still going strong at 40? He is, and he’s suiting up for France again at the worlds. Huet played 272 NHL games over seven seasons, mostly with the Canadiens. He won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 then split for the Swiss league. He spent the last three seasons with Lausanne.
2016 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP:
Bronze: United States
Stick tap to Elite Prospects for most of the stats and info here. Go fall down the rabbit hole on their World Championships page yourself.