For some reason, it’s difficult to get excited about the World Baseball Classic. It occurs every two years during spring training when major league players are far from performing at their peak.
The World Cup of Hockey, which begins Saturday, also takes place during training camp. It is there the similarities end.
The very nature of athletic competition in a contact sport like hockey versus a non-contact sport like baseball almost guarantees a better product. This will not look like the ole’ defense that nearly defines the National Hockey League All-Star Game, where contact is almost frowned upon.
The World Baseball Classic is a glorified series of exhibitions. Sure, the other countries want to beat the USA, which they usually do as many of the American-born stars sit out the competition.
The World Cup of Hockey is playing for a tangible trophy. Nearly all of the NHL’s stars will participate. The competition should be good.
On Saturday, the games begin in Toronto with all games contested in the Air Canada Centre. Among the eight teams competing for the cup are Team Canada and the USA, both of whom will be strong contenders. Also competing are Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Europe.
Organizers added extra intrigue with the eighth team, which will be called Team North America. This group will be comprised of American and Canadian stars under the age of 23.
Team USA opens against Team Europe Saturday, followed by Team Canada taking on the Czech Republic.
The teams are actually mini-organizations resembling traditional franchises. There are team presidents, general managers, directors of operations, scouts, and coaching staffs made up of high-profile National Hockey League coaches.
Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper will serve as an assistant to Todd McClellan (Edmonton Oilers) on the Team North America bench. Former Lightning Head Coach John Tortorella, who led the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup, will serve as head coach for Team USA.
Similar to the Olympics, NHL teammates will be on opposite sides during the World Cup. The Lightning are well represented with 12 players.
Steven Stamkos is part of a loaded Team Canada roster. Ben Bishop is one of three goalies for Team USA, while Jonathan Drouin will compete for Team North America.
Both Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman join the defensive corps for Team Sweden. Tampa Bay contributes goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislov Namestnikov to Team Russia.
Ondrej Palat and Andrej Sustr will play for Team Czech Republic, while Valtteri Filppula joins Team Finland.
The World Cup will provide fans — and the NHL organizations — the opportunity to watch their players compete against the world for a prestigious prize. It should be remembered that as far as they are concerned, winning will be secondary.
Job 1 is to go through the two-week tournament without a significant injury. The Lightning open the regular season at Amalie Arena Oct. 13 against the Detroit Red Wings.