‘It sucks. It’s disappointing’
Jets decry cancelled World Cup
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CALGARY — The long wait for a best-on-best hockey tournament will continue indefinitely, with the plug now pulled on a planned 2024 World Cup. And that isn’t sitting well with plenty of fans and players, who are bemoaning yet another missed opportunity to showcase the sport on a world stage.
“It sucks. It’s disappointing,” Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor said Saturday prior to his club’s game in Calgary.
The 25-year-old would have been a lock for the American team, just as he would have been last winter had NHL players been allowed to go to the Olympics and compete. That was scrapped last-minute, largely due to COVID-related concerns in China.
“With the Olympics, it was so close. This one was still a couple of years away, so (the Olympics) was a little more of a heartbreak. We had meetings with the team and everything, coaching staff was picked out. That was a real heartbreak and even this one, farther down but similar,” said Connor.
“I remember before I came into the league, 2016 at the World Cup, man, that was some fun hockey to watch. You just want to be a part of it. It’s just the best of the best. It’s unfortunate that we had to miss the Olympics last year and miss this. I think we’re all itching for it, fans and players.”
Indeed, that 2016 showcase was the last of its kind, with the NHL also taking a pass on the 2018 Winter Olympics. No official reason beyond “it’s not feasible” was given for this latest decision by the league, which came down Friday afternoon, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February is believed to be a factor.
The NHL has suspended all business relationships with Russia, and the International Ice Hockey Federation has banned the nation from all international competitions until further notice.
“Logistically, I don’t know, it’s not my decision, I’m a hockey player and don’t make those decisions. The NHL, if you don’t want to fall behind with hockey, we’re going to have to get out of our comfort zone and have stuff like World Cups,” said Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, who would certainly be a candidate for Team Canada.
The 24-year-old from Quebec believes this is part of a troubling pattern with the league.
“For me, I see it sometimes, it’s like we’re content with what we have rather than try and grow and become a bigger sport,” he said.
“Showing more personality, marketing our best players and all that. We have a great league, great competition, all 32 teams can beat each other. The Stanley Cup playoffs, there’s nothing like it. But it seems like sometimes we’re content with what we have rather than reach and try to grow in new places.”
Dubois is an avid soccer fan and pointed to the upcoming World Cup as a prime example.
“You look at the soccer World Cup coming up. How many people have probably never watched a soccer game, or rarely watch soccer games or rarely pay attention to what’s happening, then all of a sudden they’re soccer fans,” he said.
“I think for hockey, we have fans, obviously. Great, loyal, supportive fans. But if you want to grow, you have to reach out to the fan base that you might not necessarily have, or might not have for the whole 82 game season. Stuff like World Cup tournaments, world championships, all that kind of stuff, is the best way to show what our sport has.”
The only consolation for Dubois is that, given his young age, there should be more chances in his future.
Jets centre Mark Scheifele, now 29, said it’s unfortunate the goalposts keep getting pushed back.
“It is what it is. I wasn’t totally versed on everything that was going on with the talks of it. Obviously, it’s always an honour to have the opportunity to play for your country,” said Scheifele, who played in that 2016 World Cup on an under-24 team.
“That feels like forever ago, too. Obviously, COVID has thrown a wrench into things and a lot of that stuff. Just one of those things, you got to roll with the punches,” said Scheifele.
“You just have to know there’s a reason for everything and there’s a plan. Obviously, I’d love the opportunity to play for my country and play for Team Canada. It’s just one of those things, you have to know greater powers are at work and just know there’s a reason for everything.”
The NHL’s newest target is now 2025 for a World Cup, and 2026 for the Winter Olympics in Italy. But as we’ve learned in recent years, don’t mark any of those on your calendar just yet.
“I play with a lot of Europeans. I was lucky enough to go to the World Championships (last spring). A lot of these countries like Denmark, Germany, their main sport is soccer. But there is a toss up on sport two through five. That’s where I think we could do a better job trying to grow in that sense,” said Dubois.
“In Canada, No. 1 sport is hockey, we have our fans. In the US, obviously we’re trying to get more fans there. In (some European countries), No. 1 sport is soccer and it’s going to be hard to change. But you look at what the NBA is doing, what the NFL does, trying to grow in those countries and become the second-most watched sport at least. There’s so many things I feel like we can do that we are maybe overlooking.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.