World Cup of Hockey: Who are You Rooting For? by @Nick422 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, September 5, 2016

World Cup of Hockey: Who are You Rooting For? by @Nick422

The World Cup of Hockey is right around the corner.  In fact, exhibition games begin on Thursday.  So with the return of hockey it's time to ask: Who are you rooting for and why?

The Olympics are around every four years to divide us amongst fandoms.  Now the newest international tournament (well... new is a relative term) comes along to make us decide how to choose: Do we pull for nation or do we pull for player?

In the past the answer could be very simple.  You go home nation, where you were born and bred.  For most Penguins fans it could be a no brainer, especially in the past with players like Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin as well as local players such as Ryan Malone dotting the roster.  Even the 2014 incarnation of Team USA was put together with the help of Ray Shero and coached by Dan Bylsma.
Team USA
It made the decision very easy.  Go USA!  Go Team!

This year the decision isn't that easy...

A look at Team USA's roster is bleak.  With zero Penguins (and only one ex-Penguin, Matt Niskanen, who probably isn't so popular anymore) named to the team it's hard to get behind them.  When you include their coach, the one, only and abhorrent John Tortorella, the decision to support your home team is even harder. At least Mike Sullivan is an assistant coach.

Then there's Phil.  Our precious Phil.

Now we know that he's out with a hand surgery that required surgery.  At the time of World Cup of Hockey roster naming, however, he was in the midst of a Conn Smythe worthy performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where he was constantly one of the best players on ice.  Adding in his 2010 and 2014 Olympic performances (6 goals, 4 assists in 12 games) he should have been a lock.  Instead Torts and his crew shifted towards a grinder mentality, one that quite frankly has made the NHL boring.

Team Canada
Team USA's chances look bleak and the desire to support them has less traction than ever.  Plus that means pulling for Patrick Kane.  Ew.  It may have you leaning towards the unthinkable: Go Team Canada!

But Team Canada isn't infallible.

Their roster is packed with stars from every team under the NHL's banner.  However there's one glaring omission: Where's Kris Letang?  He of the stellar NHL playoffs where he seemed to be on the ice at every single moment.  He of the 67 points in 71 regular season games.  He of the vastly underrated two way game.

With all due respect to Jake Muzzin, Jay Bouwmeester or Alex Pietrangelo their addition over Kris Letang is silly.

Team North America
So do you ignore Sidney Crosby as their team captain to find another team?  Maybe the hotshot Under-23 Year Olds of Team North America can sway you!

Headlined by Auston Matthews, Team North America could very easily make a run at things.  A big roster with some highly talented players, Team NA (TNA?) not only features local boy John Gibson but Penguins playoff hero Matt Murray.  Some high flying offensive talent could make them really fun to watch, follow, and root for.

Care for a more European flair?  Maybe Team Europe is more your style.  While no Penguins are present on Team Europe's roster, a few former Penguins are.  If you don't hold a grudge you can pull for Marian Hossa.  If you still hold a grudge but want to root for them anyway there's always Thomas Greiss.

Team Europe
Team Europe is great for, if nothing else, your ability to pick and choose.  Want to celebrate your German heritage?  Great!  They've got you covered!  Maybe you are a fan of the Swiss beyond their cheese?  You're included!  Anti-Brexit and pro-EU?  You're in luck, buddy!  Team Europe is a mishmash of those teams that you see in the Olympics, teams that you otherwise would forget about, like Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Italy, Norway and France.

It gives everyone a fighting chance and allow those smaller countries some representation that they otherwise wouldn't have.  Very European of them.  Almost Communistic.  So now you can't pull for Team Europe, right?  Boy this next option sure won't be for you.

That's right.  We're at big, bad Team Russia.  Well, at one point big and bad.  These days... not so much.

Team Russia
With a roster still littered with NHL talent and lacking KHL names, something that hasn't been the case in the past as the Russian hockey boards wanted to prove that the KHL is on par with the NHL (lol), it's still not the team is once was.

Sure, you have Alex Ovechkin (ugh) and the main reason to pull for Team Russia in all around man of the world Evgeni Malkin, they're still Russia.  Once you get past Ovechkin and Malkin the biggest names are Pavel Datsyuk, who took his puck and went home to Russia because... well... because the Red Wings weren't good anymore.  Plus woman beating Slava Voynov.  Panarin, Tarasenko, and Kulemin add depth to a good offensive corps but that defense and their goaltending... ehhh.

If, for some reason, you want to pull for a former Eastern Bloc country just go with Team Czech Republic.

Team Czech Republic
There aren't any Penguins on Team Czech Republic's roster.  There is a former Penguin, though!  Zybnek Michalek is there probably blocking shots or something.  That's pretty much what he did with the Penguins.  And what he's doing with the Coyotes.  And what he'll be doing out on the ice for TCR.  Anyway here's their logo, which is pretty bad ass.

Plus Team Czech Republic does have a long history of Penguins playing for them.  Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Robert Lang, Jan Hrdina, Petr Sykora, Jiri Slegr are all Penguins of the past who has represented the Czech Republic in the past.  Current head coach Vladimir Vujtek also played five whole games with the Penguins and former head coach Ivan Hlinka was once the head coach of the Penguins.

Enough stretching here, on to the next team.

Team Finland
As we near the end of the list we get to the one and the only Team Suomi!  That's right, SUOMI!  Don't know Suomi?  Shame on you for six weeks!  Suomi is Team Finland!  The Finnish roster boasts one of the Penguins best young talents on their blue line in Olli Maatta.  

Another reason to watch the Finns?  The year's #2 overall pick Patrik Laine will be playing front and center.  It'll be the only time you'll get to see him as he withers away in Winnipeg.  Also playing for the Finnish national team is former Penguin Jussi Jokinen.  Sure he's moved on to another team but let's face it, he's still a Penguin in our hearts.  Winners of bronze in Sochi they hope to improve.

Team Sweden
Finally we make it to Team Sweden.  The Swedes are considered one of the favorites to win the World Cup of Hockey and their roster shows why.  Lots of top end talent at every position puts them among the best teams on paper.  Perhaps pushing them to the best team in your hearts, however, is the inclusion of two Penguins players.

While players like Lundqvist, Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson, Forsberg, and Eriksson headline the roster we're treated to early peaks of the likes of Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist.  A stacked team that lost to Canada in 2014 for gold looks to take home more than silver.

After all of this the question rises who are you pulling for?  Are you going for the home team?  Are you going for a player?  Are you pulling for each Penguin?  Are you just watching for fun?  Are you even going to be watching?

The World Cup of Hockey exhibition games begin Thursday on ESPN3.  You have a few days to decide before it's too late!

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