The best-of-three finals of the World Cup of Hockey are not over, but the tournament may as well be. Team Europe played well in their 3-1 Game 1 loss to undefeated Team Canada, but despite being a one-goal game for most of the second and well into the third, this one never really felt that much in doubt. This has been Canada’s tournament to win since the beginning, and now that they’re about to, it all feels a little anticlimactic.
The European players said they played their best game of the tournament last night in Toronto, but it still wasn’t enough. They, like everyone else, have no answers for Canada’s top line of Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. Through five games, the three have combined for 10 goals and 19 points. The line’s second goal last night was prototypical: Crosby running things from behind the net, Marchand causing trouble in front of it, and Bergeron gaining position to do the damage. They were swarmed by all five Europe skaters, and this still looked effortless:
I’ll admit, I mentally checked out of this tournament after group play. The Americans shit the bed, and the under-23 North American team, the best thing about the World Cup, didn’t advance despite winning two of three.
Russia-Canada made for a semifinal matchup with history, but without a personal rooting interest, it sure as hell wasn’t enough to get me (and most ESPN viewers on this side of the 49th parallel) to stay in on a Saturday evening. (The scheduling for this tournament has been suspect—half the group play games were on in the middle of the afternoon, presumably for the benefit of the European TV audience, but it led to empty arenas and blasé crowds. Game 3 of these finals, if necessary, is also scheduled for a Saturday night.)
Even the finals have a distinct lack of buzz.
The NHL insists every ticket for every game in this tournament has been sold, so they’re presumably tanking on the secondary market, or the blocks purchased by local businesses have gone unused.
The U.S.’s flameout removed a big potential audience for the rest of this tournament, and Europe (non-Swedish, non-Russian, non-Finnish, non-Czech Europe, to be precise) isn’t a particularly exciting finals participant. There’s not much in the way of a dedicated fanbase, and unlike North America, who picked up support with their speedy, wide-open play, the Europeans have succeeded with a deliberate, conservative offense. Fine for a deep tournament run, less fine for drawing viewers without a horse in the race.
There’s no one to blame for the results shaking out the way they have, but one of the built-in challenges for the World Cup was always going to be appealing to fans once their team is out. Not a problem for this edition’s host nation, of course, but if this thing is going to be held every four years like they claim, with an expanded field, the sport’s international imbalance of power feels like a potential liability.