Here’s why you need to be watching the World Cup of Hockey

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Did you hear? The World Cup of Hockey is officially back. The NHL-sanctioned international tournament officially got underway this weekend, making its return after a 12-year absence and 20 years since its inaugural event. There was no shortage of action from the first round of games on Saturday and Sunday, though not everything went as planned for those involved. (*cough* Team USA *cough* *cough*)

If you didn't catch any games over the weekend, don't fret… there's still plenty of time left. After some initial takeaways, here are some reasons why you should make it a point to tune in, as well as what to watch for.

1. To see just how embarrassed Team USA gets

The Americans had a pretty solid showing in their exhibition games prior to the tournament. They even managed to beat Canada, the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing.

But the USA had a nightmare start to the preliminary round on Saturday when they were dominated by Team Europe, believed by many to be the worst team in the field. In the 3-0 loss, the Americans were suppressed on offense and looked overmatched – and, at points, completely lost – on defense.

That latter part is especially hilarious considering the approach that USA brass took in assembling this team. They passed over several highly skilled players in order to bring in tougher, grittier guys with the hopes of playing an old school, punch-you-in-the-mouth, defense-first kind of game. Then they proceeded to play a European team that repeatedly slugged them in the face.

The question to be answered now is how will Team USA respond? It’ll be considered a major, major embarrassment if they fail to advance past the preliminary round, but the loss to Europe has made it that an unenviable task. They’ll face powerhouse Canada on Tuesday in what is essentially a do-or-die game, and if they somehow manage to win they’ll still have to beat the Czech Republic on Thursday.

For better or for worse, this USA team was built to beat Canada. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to happen, but the American staff knew they couldn’t match the elite skill of Canada and, instead of trying to keep up, they decided to build with the intentions of slowing them down. Through one game, it looks like a seriously flawed plan. Ultimately, though, this team is going to be judged by how they play on Tuesday, and they’re going to be desperate. It’ll be fun to watch.

2. You can’t keep up with North America, but you should try

Heading into the tournament, Team North America – comprised of the best players aged 23 and under from Canada and the United States – was arguably the most intriguing squad in the field. They’ve got the future faces of the NHL in guys like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Auston Matthews. They’re fun, exciting and, more importantly, they’re damn good.

The North Americans had Finland completely under siege in their first game, putting 43 shots on net in a 4-1 win. The onslaught was particularly unkind to Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist who looked completely overwhelmed all night. Just look at the pictures:

Doesn't look like a great time!

We all knew that the speed and skill would be there, but the North American team, despite its inexperience, was aggressive and fearless, which led to a lot of battles being won and the ice tilted in their favor. It’ll be interesting to see how their blue line holds up against more talented offensive teams, but the young guns are for real and worth watching and rooting for. That’s great news for any American fans that may be looking for a backup team to cheer for later this week.

3. To appreciate how dang good Canada is

In a shocking turn of events, Canada is quite good at this hockey thing. It turns out that stockpiling insanely talented skaters like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos and putting them in front of the best goaltender in the world (Carey Price) is very conducive to winning.

Following the USA’s pathetic showing against Europe, Team Canada made American hockey fans feel even worse about their team’s chances by flat-out crushing the Czech Republic in a 6-0 rout. The Canadians’ top line of Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand is the best line at the tournament, and they were insane in game number one. The trio accounted for three goals and twelve points in about 12 minutes of ice time together against the Czechs on Saturday.

While the North American team might be the most fun team to watch in the tournament, Canada is certainly the most surgical. It might be the best team you’ll see assembled in the next decade (or more) so you should take some time to witness it, or at least watch in hopes that another squad manages to pull a massive upset and knock them off.

4. What else are you going to watch?

The first rounds of games over the weekend were stuck with the unfortunate task of competing against football, both at the NCAA and NFL level. As we’ve seen over and over again, football is ratings king.

But this week features two of international hockey’s biggest longstanding rivalries with Sweden-Finland (3 p.m. EST) and USA-Canada (8 p.m.) facing off on Tuesday. Those matchups are typically worth their weight in gold if you’re a hockey fan, but there’s also not a whole lot going on during that time outside of late season baseball. From what we've seen so far, the World Cup is going to be a lot of fun to watch, so set some time aside and enjoy the show. You’ll probably be glad you did.