Today, part of ESPN’s championship caliber game and studio commentator team for World Cup of Hockey 2016 discussed the tournament after the start of pre-tournament play yesterday.
ESPN’s start-to-finish, multi-platform World Cup of Hockey 2016 tournament coverage begins Saturday, Sept. 17, with group play between Team USA and Team Europe on ESPN2 (3:30 p.m. ET). Team Czech Republic and Team Canada will face off in prime time that night on ESPNEWS at 8 p.m. All games will be televised live from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
See ESPN MediaZone for full World Cup of Hockey details.
THE MODERATOR: We have Barry Melrose, who started working with ESPN in the playoffs in 1994 and has been working with us ever since, covering Stanley Cup Final for SportsCenter, calling games, traveling to events, and he will be our lead analyst on games working with Steve Levy.
Brett Hull and Chris Chelios, two Hall of Famers, Stanley Cup champions, who made their debut last night on ESPN2 for the Team North America versus Team Europe game. They will be in the studio again tonight for Team USA, Team Canada and will be in the studio throughout the World Cup of Hockey tournament which begins September 17 and all games will be covered across ESPN’s networks. I should also mention Barry and Steve will be calling a majority of games as well as the semis and the best of three final.
So right now, I’m going to ask all the guys to make a brief opening statement about what we should be looking for during the World Cup, and then we’ll open it to questions.
BARRY MELROSE: Thank you very much. Like to welcome Cheli and Hully to the ESPN family. I know they have done stuff with us before, but it’s great to see them have an honest job, for a couple weeks, anyways.
I think I’m a little different than the other two guys because I have been with ESPN so long and was with ESPN when we had the contract. And, you know, when it was taken away from us, we lost it, it changed things drastically for ESPN.
But now to have it back and to be a major player in a major tournament; and hockey is the greatest sport in the world, and great hockey is better than good hockey and we’re going to see some of the greatest hockey that we’ve ever seen. You watch those kids last night, the Under 24 team, speed was fantastic. They made the Europeans look very slow and arguably, we’re talking about them being a middle of the road team.
I think when we are looking at the end result, the two final teams in this tournament in the best of three, it could rival the ’87 series when Gretzky and Lemieux put on such a show for Canada.
I think it’s going to be fantastic and I think it’s going to be great for hockey having it back on ESPN and I know all of us at ESPN happy to have it back on the air.
BRETT HULL: Thank you, everybody. It’s quite an honor to be a part of the ESPN family and to be with Chris, and obviously last night to be with Linda Cohn, a stalwart in the ESPN family for 20-some years.
I don’t know if I can say anything different than Barry. It’s the best of the best for the most part except for a few injured guys. I think you’re going to see some wonderful hockey.
Again, reiterating, the Under 24 kids, you know, they are marked to be a quality team but not really a contender, and I think maybe they have shown that, and they probably wished they had not played any games where the other teams could see them, so they could get a little bit of surprise. But I think they opened the eyes to some of the teams that may have taken advantage or taken them for granted.
I think it’s going to be a wonderful tournament and I look forward to the next three weeks of watching it and being a part of the calls.
CHRIS CHELIOS: Again, so happy to be a part of the ESPN family. Back when I started, that’s all you saw was hockey on ESPN. So for them to get back into it and take over covering the World Cup, what a great introduction for them.
Again, working with them and Linda last night, seeing how excited they are, hopefully they can carry me and Hully; and we don’t pretend to be as good as Barry — I’ll give you a little thing there, Barry.
BARRY MELROSE: You’re a good guy, Cheli.
CHRIS CHELIOS: Thanks. We’ll see at the end of this term here.
Again, like the Olympics, you’re not dealing with any time change. This is going to be a great spectrum here for people in North America to get a great look at the great players. The new addition of the young guns, the North American team, I love it. Watching them last night, it shows Canada has always said they could put two teams up. Well, at least the U.S. is showing some depth now, and we can at least put one and a half teams up.
The European teams, I think back to Hasek when he won the Olympics single-handedly. Anything can happen in this tournament. Different format, top two teams advance from each round. It’s great. I’m happy to be a part of it with Hully and the rest of the crew.
Yeah, I don’t think anybody is going to be disappointed after this tournament. The skill level, you look down these rosters, it’s unreal. I’m excited to be a part of this and can’t wait till the games start.
Coming at a tough time of year, an awful lot of sports competition. Do you think there’s anything that might draw the more mainstream fan into watching this tournament?
BARRY MELROSE: Well, we’re not really trying to get the mainstream fan. We’ve got those guys. The hockey fan is going to be watching, whether it’s on our air or NBC or CBS or whoever has got hockey. The real hockey fans are going to be watching that game.
What we hope to be able to grab with ESPN, and I think what the Players Association and NHL hope, is maybe a fan that’s watching a football game or a baseball game or a soccer game that time with ESPN, and all of a sudden they come across a hockey game on ESPN. Because you have got to remember, hockey hasn’t been on ESPN for basically 12 years. So maybe we’ll be able grab some of those fans that are not used to seeing hockey on ESPN.
We know we’ve got the fans. We’ve talked about it before: We have the greatest fans in the world. We just have to hopefully find more of them and hopefully because it’s on ESPN, a different venue and a venue that everyone watches that is a sports fan in the United States and around the world; we’re hoping that those guys will come and say, hey, this hockey is unbelievable and ESPN is doing hockey and I watching it. So we’re hoping we’ll be able to grab fans like that, also.
THE MODERATOR: Chris or Brett, I know you guys have talked about before the national pride aspect of it. Having participated, do you want to talk about that, how that draws people in?
BRETT HULL: Sure. The pride in that is obviously a huge part. I think Barry hit on it, too. It’s on ESPN, and you know, I think ESPN is synonymous with sports and anybody who is a sports fan will be on an ESPN channel and I think it’s going to draw — like Barry said, we’re going to have the hockey fans.
It’s going to draw other people and it’s going to draw fans just because they want to see the best of the best. It’s like an All-Star Game but it’s an All-Star Game for three weeks, and I think people are going to love it. You know, not only Canadians but Americans more than anything are patriotic and they want to see their team succeed and they are going to see some of the best U.S. players there are, and they are going to want to watch them play and win.
CHRIS CHELIOS: What I’ll add to that is, like the Olympics a few weeks ago, even if you’re not a hockey fan, you’re going to want to back your country, and this is another opportunity to do it. Maybe we’ll draw some people that weren’t fans that do watch ESPN; now they are going to get a chance to at least cheer for their country, and even if they are not hockey fans.
Again, I’m a big fan, World Cup soccer or Olympics. I’ll watch any sport if it’s an American competing against another country. I think that’s one different aspect of it that we might benefit from that, too.
I’m hoping each can provide a player that you feel is under the radar for a specific team. I was going to start with Barry for Team Canada and then I’m going to go to Brett for team North America and Cheli for Team USA. Barry, if you were to take a player that’s under the radar and could really succeed and showcase his talents here in this tournament, who might it be?
BARRY MELROSE: I’m going to go in a different direction. I’m going to go with Brad Marchand. We know what Crosby is going to do. We know what the other Canadians are going to do but Marchand has not been part of this group too much. He had a great Worlds. A lot of it is because if Boston went a long way in the Playoffs, so Marchand wasn’t available for the World’s. But Boston didn’t make the Playoffs, Marchand went to the World’s.
I thought he was one of Canada’s best players and he’s a wild card. You don’t know what you’re going to get from him but you’re going to get passion, and he can still make people play better around him, and he may tend to make the opposition mad and sometimes that hurts Canada, also, because the other guys (indiscernible) about playing Marchand.
But he’s playing with Crosby right now, with Bergeron. That’s a great line. It’s a good two-way line and it’s a very good line that can score very good defensively, also. As I said, this guy is going to be very interesting to me just for the fact that he’s sort of in rarified air. He has not been in this type of grouping before. He’s never really been thought of as Canada’s best 20 players in the world in hockey.
I’m really interested to see how Marchand plays and how his style coincides with the way the World Cup is, how important it is, and how penalties might be a factor; whether you draw one by making someone mad at you, or maybe you take one by stepping over the line yourself. So he’s going to be a guy I’m going to be watching.
And Brett, how about Team North America?
BRETT HULL: I’m going to go off the rails a little bit, too. I’ll give you two guys. I’m looking at Johnny Gaudreau. He’s looking at a new contract with the Calgary Flames. They are a $1.5 million or so apart. He’s an extremely talented young player, and this is a tournament where if he can really show his stuff, that could help him, not only kind of even make him a better player, but also show the Flames what he’s worth, and it could make him some extra million dollars.
And then Auston Matthews. Here is a kid drafted No. 1 overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, arguably one of the top three biggest franchises in the game. He has not even had a chance to play an NHL exhibition game and here he is being one of the stars on the World Cup team for the young guys. I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him, but again he can prove to people what he’s worth to all the fans not only in the NHL but a very tough market in Toronto.
And Chris, Team USA?
CHRIS CHELIOS: I’m going to go with the guys from out West, because everybody always talks about not being able to see those guys at much. They don’t get the credit sometimes that they deserve.
Pavelski does everything right and he does everything great. He’s a guy after watching the past two Olympics — or I should say, the last Olympics in Sochi, was one of the best players. Out of the box, against Patrick Kane, in opinion, is the best player. He’s been their best player throughout the past two Olympics, so that’s not a question for me.
The other guy would be Ryan Kesler. He got hurt in Sochi. He was a big part of that team until he hurt his hand and I think it affected the team and it was a big loss for him when he hurt his hand. For sure, I would watch Pavelski and Kesler to have great tournaments.
Brett and Chris, you guys sort came — I guess you were a part of the whole World Cup/Olympic fervor in the late 90s and early 2000s. You’ve been a part of tournaments that have started before the season, tournaments that started during the season. Is there something about a tournament that starts before the year when guys are fresh that could make it better, like this event, or is it better when a guy is in the middle of his season and kind of is part of that moving train, so to speak.
CHRIS CHELIOS: I guess the biggest difference, I would say, is when we came to camp back in the 90s for a World Cup or a Canada Cup, most guys, most teams, they came to camp to play their way into shape. That’s not the case anymore. These kids, and even the veterans, the fitness level of these guys compared to when we were their age, it’s a totally different animal. So that I would say is the biggest difference.
So these guys are going to be in great shape, however I don’t think it makes a difference now whether it’s going to be in September or, like you said, the break during the Olympics. The guys are just in phenomenal shape, and the speed, obviously the speed indicates that.
BRETT HULL: Yeah, I agree with that. The other way I could maybe look at it as being a difference as a starter in the middle is I think we’re missing a number of really good, great players for every team in the tournament, because of injuries that happened just at the end of the season and they are still not healed enough to play.
Maybe if it was in the middle of the season, I guess could you still get hurt early in the season and not be able to play but I think more guys would be available if it was midseason and that’s about the only other thing I could think of.
I know you guys don’t deal directly with marketing partners so much, but when you look at the lineup of the brands and the companies that are involved with this, does that sort of speak to the importance of the games themselves, too, that the NHL was able to get a lot of its partners involved and have them back up the play and the importance of the games coming up?
BARRY MELROSE: We had meetings with the NHL a couple weeks ago in Bristol. The NHL made it very clear that they were very happy, along with the Players Association, because people forget, the Players Association partners with the NHL here. It’s an NHL tournament and rules and everything but this tournament wouldn’t happen if the Players Association wasn’t on board.
It’s a 50/50 proposition, so the Players Association are very charged to have it back on ESPN, NHL is, and it’s good for the NHL when you get another dog in the fight. So you have another organization trying to get NHL games. I think that’s great for everybody in the hockey world.
But I think that when you’ve got the greatest players in the world, all over the world, playing in one period of time, basically two weeks, in a major, major city in North America, and that’s Toronto; what a place to market your product. You’re going to have events every night, you’re going to have games every night, you’re going to have practices all day long, you’ve got private boxes, the Jays are going to be in town playing the Yankees.
What a marketing time for the NHL. If you’re trying to sell your product, there’s no better time ever than what’s going to be happening in the next three weeks in Toronto. I think it’s just going to be phenomenal to watch what happens. The games are going to sell themselves. The games are going to be fantastic. The athletes will see to that but I think it’s just a great chance for everybody, ESPN, NHL, Players Association, everybody, to have a great time selling what they sell and helping their brand name.
BRETT HULL: I agree, and like your point to have another dog in the fight, it’s a great opportunity for ESPN to show the NHL and the Players Union that this is an epic network to have and to hold their brand on.
I think you see a lot of the brands, just knowing it was ESPN, were probably eager to jump on board.
CHRIS CHELIOS: Yeah, could be a continuation — they have done everything very in public. When they had the meetings, everybody is trying to do their best from the opening ceremonies; they have some great opening bands to there’s a jersey that I thought Hully’s comments on team North America’s jerseys were awesome.
I hope this leads to four games on ESPN from the NHL, and the more games on TV is better for everybody, better for the Players Association. It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait to see where this leads the ESPN people as far as the NHL.
You’ve talked about national pride a little bit, in terms of team North America and Team Europe, is it an advantage or a disadvantage to not have a true, quote unquote, home country?
BARRY MELROSE: I’ll start. I think it’s tougher for the European teams, especially Team Europe that played last night. Basically everybody in Canada knows each other. Most of the American guys have played together at some time on their way up the ladder. Same thing with the Russians. Same thing with everybody else.
Even the North American team are half-Canada and half-American kids. But they have been to hockey schools together or played against each other since they have been 12 years old so, they know each other very well.
And obviously, it’s not really a language problem. You can actually speak Canadian or American in the press room and it’s not going to be a problem either one. Whereas Team Europe has got a lot of stuff going on. You have five or six guys from a lot of different guys. I think last night, the guys were talking about last night, ten countries supplied players. Everyone speaks English to a certain amount but players are more comfortable certainly in their native tongue.
And countries play different styles. Basically if you’ve been around hockey long enough, and Chris and Hully will tell you, like the Swedes are very — you can tell a Swede from a Finn from a Russian from a Czech from a Canadian. Americans are even different. American kids in Boston play different than American kids in Minnesota that play different styles than American kids in Massachusetts.
I really think it’s going to be very, very tough for Team Europe to compete with all these other teams that are up there right now.
BRETT HULL: I think you said it best. There’s nothing really you could add except for it’s unfortunate they don’t have an anthem, but they could play “We Are The World” before every game for them.
CHRIS CHELIOS: That’s because that was your favorite song, Hully.
BRETT HULL: Again, the new format is great. Shows the depth. But for sure, Team Europe is at a disadvantage in that sense.
For Chris and Brett, you guys have taken part in multiple international tournaments. Do you think that a tournament like the World Cup helps the Olympics as far as increases a player’s national pride for it by being in something like this or does it make it more difficult? What is your experience with that?
BRETT HULL: The Olympics stand alone. I don’t think anything could ever make you not want to be a part of the Olympics. It’s the greatest sporting event that’s ever been put on this earth, and so anything could persuade you to be more excited to play, and I certainly don’t think anything could deter your enthusiasm to go to the Olympics so, I don’t really think it has a bearing on it.
CHRIS CHELIOS: I agree. It’s a much bigger stage. At least it was for me as a player, and even as a coach. The fact that there’s a village, the ceremonies, it’s just a much bigger stage in the World Cup. Every bit is important, playing the World Cup, because even, you’re wearing the jersey, representing your country. But just having all those other sports and the atmosphere, the differing countries we’ve been so, it’s such a big stage.
So much buildup to the event in the first games and whatnot. What was it like for you guys watching that Team North American game and seeing the speed and creativity of those players? Does that get your juices going more for the tournament? There’s always mystery before a tournament seeing how it’s going to go, but then seeing that, do you think that that hyped you guys up and do you feel like it hyped up hockey fans watching it? And it could be for any of the three on the call.
BRETT HULL: You know, we were all talking and we were all excited about watching those guys and their talent and their speed and skill and we were wondering if there was nothing to be nerves or whatnot going in.
From the opening shift, we just looked at each other and said, okay, these guys are ready to go. They are not afraid of everything and they are very confident. Almost to a point where Chris and I told each other after the first period, they are almost too skilled. They are over-passing, they are over-stick handling, and if they would just kind of tone it down a little bit and take some shots and stop the extra move or the extra pass, that game could have been a lot worse.
BARRY MELROSE: One of the things I looked at last night is I looked at all the picks in the first game, and I think the last five first picks are in that game last night.
That’s an armload when you’re watching a game and you can sort of see where these guys are; Vlad was two years ago, MacKinnon three years ago, McDavid was a couple years ago, Auston Matthews was last year. So it’s really neat to see all these high draft picks. And then you see Gaudreau who was a fourth round pick.
So guys become great at different periods at different speeds. But to see all those young kids and how high they were drafted and see how great they are and how great they might be in four or five years when they are playing for the country of Canada or the United States, it’s pretty fun to watch a game like that and just envision where those guys slide into the stars that the NHL will have in the next five or six years with that group.
CHRIS CHELIOS: I was impressed watching with their ages and then all of the sudden you look over and it’s like, he’s been in the NHL for five years and it’s like, hold on, you’re only 23 years old, how can you be — (multiple speakers.)
BARRY MELROSE: Been in the NHL for five years — two Stanley Cups.
Barry, who do you feel is the frontrunner for Team USA — Bishop, Schneider, Quick?
BARRY MELROSE: I think it’s Quick’s job to lose. I think he’s won two Stanley Cups. I think that you can’t argue with the fact that I thought he was L.A.’s best player the two times they won the Stanley Cup. Bishop has not been great on the big stage, if you look at the last two Stanley Cups, the finals, and then with the run to the finals where he got hurt in that series both times.
So I really think Schneider is great, but I sort of think he’s on the outside looking in. It will take somebody playing bad for him to get in. So I think it’s Jonathan Quick’s job to lose.
And Chris, is experience in these events as important as many seem to make it out to be?
CHRIS CHELIOS: Well, I’m going to have to say this, just because of the history with the Wings, they brought in that veteran one or two guys each other, as opposed to having a young guy out there, especially on D.
So yeah, I’m a big fan of having that veteran presence for the dressing room when things aren’t going well. Just when you face adversity, I think that’s where the experience and the veteran leadership kicks in.
Brett, curious your feelings on the ’96 World Cup team entering the Hockey Hall of Fame in November.
BRETT HULL: Well, I think it’s a fantastic honor. I’m not too sure that all of the guys on the team individually shouldn’t be in there as individuals, as well. It was an unbelievable hockey team and an unbelievable victory, so it’s an honor and an honor to be part of it.
One difference with this tournament is everything being centralized and located in Toronto instead of multiple cities, is there any worry about the ice conditions with the heat and so many games being played all the time –
CHRIS CHELIOS: — the ice is mediocre at best, so I think they are all going to be used to it.
BARRY MELROSE: The NHL will have as good ice as possible. They are experts now making ice in the fall or in 60- or 60-degree weather with Danny Craig there. So if it’s possible to have great ice, they will have it. I think like Hully, with that amount of ice and that big of men, the ice is not going to be great but everyone has to play on it, so it’s not an advantage or a disadvantage for anybody.
CHRIS CHELIOS: Again, we talked about it last night. The ice actually looked pretty good. At any rink, other than Canada for some reason, you go to Edmonton or Calgary, probably because it’s 80 below, they seem to get it, whether it’s the humidifiers or anything.
But in the U.S. it always seems like it’s the same: The ice is good for the first eight, ten minutes of the period and it always slows down a little bit. So like Hully said, the guys are used to it.
BRETT HULL: I want to know how Sweden got the Ritz.
BARRY MELROSE: Maybe it was something to do with the Players Association.
BRETT HULL: Maybe they just drew out of a hat.
BARRY MELROSE: No, no, they didn’t. It was the Players — I think Schneider made the decision. They told us the story. I thought you were there when they told us the story about that —
BRETT HULL: — did anyone ask that? Because I’d much rather stay at the Ritz than the Harbor Castle where one billion people are going to be (laughter).
Would it be too much to ask for your winner and runner-up?
BARRY MELROSE: I’m going to be honest. I’m hoping for the United States. But I think Canada is the best team. And I think it means more to the Canadians to win in Canada. I think that will be one of the biggest differences that they have to win; the other teams wanted to win, but I think Canada has that mentality that they have to win. So I think Canada’s is the best team in the tournament. Runner-up, I would say Sweden.
BRETT HULL: Well, there’s no question Canada is the best team. Now what happens after that, how the goalies play, you know, Finland, Sweden. But I really think the United States team, they have put together a real hard team to play against, and if their goalies play good at all, I think they are going to be very hard to beat, as well.
CHRIS CHELIOS: I’m going to say Canada is the favorite, I’m sure, for the U.S., but hoping for another ’96 outcome. I think the U.S. is going to be better than they were in Sochi. So like I said, even though Canada is the favorite, I’m going to U.S., Canada.
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