Thursday, September 29, 2016

The World Cup Needs To End Tonight

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Frans Nielsen of Team Europe tries to defend Sidney Crosby
Credit: Nathan Denette - The Canadian Press

By Adam Bernard

The World Cup of Hockey has been great for the month of September. Usually hockey-starved fans are just getting some pre-season action right about now, but the World Cup has provided us puck junkies with competitive hockey about three weeks earlier than usual. The prelim play was good and allowed people to size up the field. Once the round-robin play got going, the games got even better. But once the semis rolled around, unless you were in Canada, the buzz went away, the urge to watch wasn’t what it was, and the end of the tournament has seemingly become stale.

Much like college basketball’s March Madness, the best part about is the beginning. At first, you have the conference tournaments before the actual tournament begins, where there’s always the possibility of a team clinching a birth in to the NCAA Tournament field that wasn’t in the mix initially. Some bubble teams burst, some improve their resumes. To me, that was the equivalent of the prelim play because we’re getting to see what teams were made of.
Aaron Harrison helped Kentucky topple Wisconsin in the 2014 tournament with an incredible 3.
The descending buzz of the World Cup is similar to that of March Madness
Credit: Bob Donnan - USA Today Sports Images
Once the actual NCAA Tournament begins, almost everyone is in to it, whether it’s because they like good sports or because they filled out a bracket for their office pool, interest is high. This is similar to what the beginning of round-robin play in the World Cup was like: everyone (except maybe the Czechs and Team Europe – boy did Europe prove us wrong) had a chance to win this thing (with Canada being the heavy favorites), and hockey fans from all of the participating countries were in to it. But just like college basketball after the first weekend of games when most people’s brackets are in the recycling pile, the field of legitimate World Cup contenders started to thin.

Pool B had some excitement throughout (especially the North American squad), but Finland’s performance was a disappointment. While that didn’t necessarily contribute to the lack of strong interest as the World Cup is in the final stretch, Team USA’s performance certainly did. Their clunker against Europe foreshadowed worse things to come. A lackluster showing against the Canadians deemed their final game against the Czech Republic meaningless. If Team USA had anything to play for in their last game, things would have been different, especially if they had made it to the World Cup’s final four.
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USA Goalie Jonathan Quick was looking behind him for pucks more than he would liked during the World Cup of Hockey
Credit: Frank Gunn - AP

I’m not saying Team Europe doesn’t have a chance to win tonight and force it to a third and final game. They didn’t play poorly in Game One and hung with the Canadians until midway through the third period in the 3-1 loss. Even if they do win and make it to Saturday night, do you really think Team Canada will lose two games in a row, on home soil, when they haven’t lost a game since the first prelim game (which in hindsight was probably the best thing to happen to Team Canada and the worst to Team USA)? This tournament is over either tonight or Saturday, and it won’t be over a moment too soon. I can’t promise that I won’t be flipping over to NHL.TV to check out some of the NHL pre-season slate, especially if Canada pulls away early. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

World Cup Of Hockey Canada-Europe Final Preview

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Sidney Crosby slips one by Jaroslav Halak back in Canada's 4-1 victory last weekCredit: Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS

After all of the prelim games, round-robin play, and semifinals, it's finally time to decide the winner of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. The Best-Of-Three series kicks off tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Check out Adam Bernard & Jon Casilli's thoughts on the game as well as some closing thoughts on the other six WCOH participants. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

World Cup of Hockey Grades for Eliminated Teams

Shayne Gostisbehere, John Gibson & Jacob Trouba defend the front of the net against Sweden

North America - B - It's tough to give anyone an 'A' who didn't make it to the semis, but the young North American squad was fun to watch and had a lot of fan support. We may never see the likes of these guys playing on the same team again (due to age & two different countries), but their speed and ability to push the puck up the rink in the blink of an eye was nice while it lasted. The OT against Sweden was some of the most exciting hockey we've seen in a while. The loss to Russia is what did them in, but they played well in all 3 games, especially against Finland.

Andrej Sustr, Jakub Voracek & Michael Frolik celebrate a goal against Team USA

Czech Republic – C+ - The Czechs were grouped with Team Europe in the "afterthought" category coming in to this tournament. Finishing with a 1-1-1 record isn't too shabby considering what was expected of them. Canada crushed them, but they played a competitive game against Team Europe, and beat the Americans to close the round robin play. If they had come out on top against Europe in OT instead, they would be getting ready for a semifinal game against Sweden. The Czechs used to be one of the powerhouses of international play. That isn't the case anymore, but there is enough talent there to continue to be a tough competitor in the future.

Aleksander Barkov skates with the puck against Russia
Finland - D That D isn’t for defenseman, and they’re lucky that they didn’t get a failing grade considering they scored one goal in three games. They played Sweden tough in a 2-0 loss, played Russia tough for half of a game, and didn’t get the best outing from Pekka Rinne in their first game against North America. The Finns didn’t play as badly as the next team, but they could certainly use some scoring punch in future international tournaments.

Team USA skates off after the final game after a disappointing performance in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

F There’s not much else that can be said about Team USA’s dismal performance in the World Cup. Yes, Phil Kessel would have helped the offense. But if John Tortorella was all about toughness and character, Kessel proved Tortorella’s character point on why he and Dean Lombardi didn’t pick him to be on the team with his now infamous tweet from Tuesday night. The fact that both Jack & Erik Johnson made this team on the blueline, but Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Faulk didn’t will always be a head-scratcher. Team USA didn’t play well enough at all to even entertain the idea of them making it past round-robin play. This is the lowest point of USA hockey since the 1998 debacle in the Olympics at Nagano. Maybe the Americans aren’t as close as they thought they were to going toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world. They’ll get an injection of youth and offense next time around when some of the Americans on the North American squad move to Team USA, but it is definitely a “back to the drawing board” moment for USA hockey.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Russia's Run Continues

Alex Ovechkin of Team Russia celebrates a second period goal by Vladimir Tarasenko against Team Finland during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 22, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin celebrates with teammates after Vladimir Tarasenko's 2nd period goal (credit Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Russia won 3-0 over Finland today to advance to the World Cup Semifinals to play Canada. Adam Bernard & Jon Casilli give their thoughts on the game here

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Europe-Canada Preview

(Burns photo - credit Calgary Sun / Halak photo credit &

If someone had said at the beginning of this tournament that Canada and Europe’s final match of round robin play against each other would decide first overall in Pool A, most hockey fans would have met that declaration with a puzzled expression. Due to a unspectacular (but expected) showing by the Czech Republic, and a dumpster-fire performance by Team USA (that lead one sled hockey player from the national team to tweet that he was thankful for not having legs after watching that), the first place deciding match-up between the Canadians and Europeans is happening tonight. The winner gets the second place finisher in Pool B, while the loser gets the winner from Pool B.

On paper, Canada should continue their steamrolling of teams in this tournament. They opened up the World Cup of Hockey by pummeling the Czech Republic 6-0, and eliminated Team USA from advancing last night in a 4-2 victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. They’ve been the heavy favorite from when the rosters were announced, and have performed up to expectations so far. Carey Price has looked sharp in net (he’ll get today’s game off and Corey Crawford will start in his place), Brent Burns has been a dominant force on the blueline, and the rest of the star-studded cast has run like a well-oiled machine. There was no reason to doubt this team coming in to the tournament, and there’s no reason to start questioning them now.

If you’re Team Europe, you do have a couple of minor advantages heading in to this game. Canada is coming off a back-to-back. For all of that talk of how Team USA was going to physically impose their will on to teams to win (which failed horribly), they did register 38 hits against the Canadians last night. If there ever was a right time to play Crosby & Company, this is it. Europe can also play this game without any added pressure. Sure, they want to win the game and win the pool after most had them finishing at the bottom of the standings, but they don’t have to win to advance. They can focus on playing smart, efficient hockey and don’t have to force any chances because they’re in must-win mode. Jaroslav Halak has played very well between the pipes for the European Squad (including a 35 save-shutout to open the tournament against Team USA) and will get the nod again. Europe had no back-to-back games in this tournament, so they should be fresh. If there is something Europe wants to focus on improving, converting on the power play (which is currently 0 for 10) would be helpful.

The semi-final match-up possibilities will become clearer after today’s Sweden-North America game. A Sweden win locks in first place in Pool B (and a game against the loser of Canada-Europe). A North America win opens up a bunch of possibilities. 

North America-Sweden Preview

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Adam Bernard and Jon Casilli preview today's Pool B North America-Sweden match-up with another edition of PT Radio

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sweden-Finland Recap

Catch Adam Bernard and Jon Casilli's thoughts on Sweden's 2-0 victory over Finland right here

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Adam Bernard & Jon Casilli preview Day 2's action of the World Cup of Hockey with Sweden taking on Russia and Finland playing Team North America.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Adam Bernard and Jon Casilli break down Team USA's poor showing against Team Europe to open the 2016 World Cup of Hockey