By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada may have captured the World Cup of Hockey in dramatic fashion this week on home soil but the tournament failed to generate much buzz and will need time to reclaim the stature it once enjoyed.
The tournament, held for the first time in 12 years, came to a wild but predictable finish on Thursday when powerhouse Canada rallied late for a 2-1 victory over Team Europe to finish with a perfect 6-0 record.
But a mostly tepid atmosphere at games during a tournament in the center of the hockey universe was a blunt reminder that pitting the world’s best players against one another outside of the Olympics is not a guaranteed recipe for success.
With the National Hockey League and its players’ association undecided about future Olympic participation, the two parties opted to re-boot the World Cup of Hockey, a two-week event that reportedly generated about $130 million in revenue.
But many dismissed the eight-team tournament as a cash grab and one that lacked the authenticity of World Cups in other sports given its irregular appearance on the sporting schedule, lack of qualifying system and a pair of gimmicky teams.
The NHL even scrapped a World Cup viewing party outside the arena hosting the final on Thursday, citing inclement weather, after only a handful of fans had gathered for the event two nights earlier.
But the NHL insists the World Cup, which included a speedy and talent-rich squad of Under-24 players from Canada and the rival United States playing as Team North America, accomplished all its objectives.
“The premise behind the way we did this event was we hadn’t done it in over a decade, let’s bring it back, let’s bring it back big and bold,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
“We accomplished that and this is now an important event on the sport competition stage. Where we take it, I can’t tell you for certain other than we built a foundation we can grow off of.”
But despite making money, the latest edition of the World Cup was a far cry from a tournament whose rich roots date back to the Canada Cups of the 1970s and 1980s and produced some of the best international hockey ever played.
Not helping matters was an unthinkable march to the final by Team Europe, a motley mix of players from eight nations playing together for the first time. While impressive, Team Europe’s run denied the tournament a clash of storied rivals in the finals.
Bettman maintains the World Cup of Hockey, which has only been staged three times since NHL players started participating in the Olympics in 1998, will be a more permanent fixture on the calendar moving forward.
But the NHL has yet to commit to a date for the next World Cup, which will not help attract hockey fans who long ago embraced the consistent schedule offered by the Olympics.
“It’s safe to say there will be another World Cup and more and more World Cups on a regular basis,” said Bettman.
“We haven’t sat down with the Players’ Association yet to decide whether or not if it should be in four years or three years or five years. That’s something that will be on the table.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)