January 27, 2015 By Paul Gackle

Rink Notes: Pavelski, Vlasic And Niemi On 2016 World Cup

SAN JOSE — The World Cup of hockey is returning in 2016 and the San Jose Sharks’ likely participants agree that it will be “interesting”.

The NHL announced over the weekend that it will be holding an eight-team World Cup at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in September 2016, paving the way for the league’s temporary divorce from Olympic participation.

“It’s exciting,” Joe Pavelski said. “Nobody really knows what to expect, but you’re probably going to have one of the strongest talent pools ever.”

The World Cup is an evolution of the Canada Cup (1976-1991), which provided hockey fans with rare opportunities to see the world’s best players competing for their countries on the international stage long before NHL talent began participating in the Olympics. In 1996, the Canada Cup became the World Cup, but the tournament was held only once (2004) after the NHL started sending players to the Olympics in 1998.

With Pyeongchang, South Korea set to host the 2018 Olympics, the NHL is expected to suspend its participation, opening the door for the return of the World Cup in 2016.

But this World Cup promises to be different from past international hockey tournaments because it’s coming with a twist: six countries and two All-Star teams.

As usual, the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic will participate, but they’ll be joined by a European All-Star team and a North American Youngstars squad.

The European All-Star team will feature the best European players who aren’t from Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, while North American Youngstars will be a collection of Canadian and American players who are 23-years-old and younger.

The prospect of competing in the World Cup is exciting to Pavelski, who remembers watching the Americans beat Canada at the 1996 World Cup, a signature moment for USA hockey.

“Growing up as an American, I think we all remember that one World Cup where Brett Hull scored. It was a great tip, right at the crossbar — it was not a high stick,” Pavelski said, joking about the controversial game-tying goal in Game 3 of the 1996 World Cup final.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who won a gold medal with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Games, said he’ll gladly participate in the World Cup if his number is called.

“It’s good for the league. It should be fun. It’s like the World Championships and the Olympics, but right in between. It’s not as prestigious as the Olympics,” he said, adding: “I hope this doesn’t replace the Olympics because I’d be extremely disappointed.”

Vlasic said NHL players will travel to any corner of the globe to participate in the Olympics.

“I know the guys who went to the Olympics in Sochi will want to go back to the next one if they’re chosen and the NHLPA will do whatever the players decide,” he said.

The addition of two All-Star teams to the World Cup is already raising questions about the integrity of the international contest.

Here’s how Vlasic put it: “It doesn’t make it an Olympics. It doesn’t make it country vs. country because now you have the U.S. and Canada [together on one team]. What if they win? What? Are the U.S and Canada going to celebrate together? It’s weird.”

But Pavelski said the All-Star teams will raise the intensity level at the World Cup.

“As a fan, I know I would be excited to see the format and how they’re doing it,” he said. “There’s going to be more toss-up games, I think. You’re not going to have a night off, not that you normally do other times, but you’re going to have up and down lineups.”

Finnish goalie Antti Niemi said the All-Star teams will make the tournament “interesting”.

“They criticized it a lot back in Europe. They think it might be too much for show business,” Niemi said, referring to the All-Star squads. “It’s been a great thing for more countries, like Slovakia, to be part of it (Olympics and World Cup). But, of course, they’re going to get great teams and that means all of the top players in the world are going to be there no matter which countries they play for, so it’s an interesting situation.”

But Niemi said tournament could lack the national pride that makes Olympic competition so intense.

“There’s not going to be the national team against national team atmosphere in those games,” he said. “You always want your country to beat the other country, but then there’s going to be these other teams who you’re not sure what they’re made out of.”

The addition of the All-Star squads means that periphery countries, like Switzerland and Slovakia, won’t have a seat at the table this time around. Switzerland shocked the world by beating Canada at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, but the World Cup won’t provide the potential for such a colossal upset.

The NHL is, however, reportedly planning to add a qualifying tournament if they hold a 2020 World Cup, which would do away with the All-Star squads.

Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller doesn’t feel slighted by his country’s exclusion from the event.

“It would be nice if our country was in it, but on the other side, we’re not really a top-six country yet. It’s fair that we’re not in it,” Mueller said.

Wingels Hopes For Quick Recovery: Broken bones typically sideline hockey players for four to six weeks. Tommy Wingels is hoping to recover from a broken bone in left hand in three to four weeks.

Wingels suffered the break after taking a slash on his left hand from Mike Cammalleri during the third period of the Sharks’ contest with the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 19. Despite his optimism, Wingels said there is no timetable for his return.

“I don’t have an exact timeframe. It’s when my hand heals,” he said. “When I feel comfortable playing with it, and when I can get the strength back in it, will determine whether or not I feel I’m ready to play.”

When asked if he’d be out for the standard four to six weeks, Wingels said: “I hoping less than that. I’d love to make it three or four”

The injury could potentially keep Wingels out of the Sharks’ Stadium Series bout with the Los Angeles Kings at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21?

“It’s something I’d like to participate in, that being said, every game you miss is tough,” he said. “But those opportunities don’t come around a lot.”

Now, it’s matter of patience for Wingels, who only knows how to play hockey with urgency. Wingels leads the Sharks with 174 hits, which is also ties him for third in the NHL in that stat category.

“You can’t watch practice,” Wingels said, when asked about the keys to staying patient. “You’ve got to just stay to your rehab plan and your schedule. Things like this happen.”