Wiebe’s World: Why this generation of fans, players needs a best-on-best event

Team North America's Connor McDavid skates to the net as Team Europe's Roman Josi defends during first period of a pre-tournament game at the World Cup of Hockey, Thursday, September 8, 2016 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

LOS ANGELES — This generation — and probably most importantly, the next several — needs its own version of The Golden Goal.

A Gretzky to Lemieux, in on goal, he shoots…he scores. Mario Lemieux has scored for Canada, explosion for the ages that will essentially become a historical films moment, one that will be played on a loop of highlight reels and YouTube channels for eternity.

That the best player on the planet, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, spoke so passionately on the subject in the wake of the World Baseball Classic was a massive step towards making this dream a reality.

And good on McDavid and others for speaking out.

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Because for all of the hurdles on the horizon for bringing back the World Cup of Hockey and eventually the Olympics — and yes, we understand there are some significant hurdles — if the players truly want this, there will be a pathway to making it happen.

When it comes to helping grow the sport both within North America and especially globally, there is no better way to do so.

That’s why it’s so important to keep the topic on the front burner.

“I think back to my childhood and watching 2002 in Salt Lake City. I was pretty young but that was incredible. Then 2006 and with 2010 and the Olympics being in Canada, I would have been 13 or 14 at the time and that was just unreal,” Winnipeg Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said during a recent interview. “Being Canadian and seeing them win in Canada was awesome, but the thing is, it grows the game so much more. You don’t get that many opportunities when you get the best players on that world stage, where you’re not just being covered in North America and some of the European countries, but worldwide.

“It’s been disappointing that we haven’t had that in the game for a while. It’s tough. As a fan, I would love to see it and one: it grows the game and two: people rally around their countries. If you look at the World Cup in soccer, it’s the best. Stanley Cup playoffs, the Olympics, those are the best things to watch and I wish that we had them going.”

For Morrissey, it wasn’t just the Golden Goal that stood out at the time. He couldn’t get enough of the entire event.

“I think I watched every game. Guys that I was idolizing. Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, the list goes on and on with that team,” said Morrissey. “As a Canadian kid, having that pride in my country. I just remember the day of the game, the whole country was stopped. When we were driving home and racing to get home and watch the game, it was quiet on the streets. It’s almost like what you see around the holidays, on a Christmas morning or something like that or New Year’s Day.

“I look at the next part of my career, all of the Hockey Canada events, Under-17, Under-18, world junior, world championships. That template of Canada winning in 2010, that’s what you wanted to carry on, even though they were much smaller events but still, you feel that pride as a Canadian and I still remember where I was when Sid scored that goal.”

Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins lives and works in a market where two of the best players in baseball ply their trade with the Los Angeles Angels and he was glued to the TV watching those teammates go head to head in the WBC final featuring the United States and Japan.

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“As a fan and if I was an elite player — which I am not — I don’t see how you would want anything else but to see the absolute best against the absolute best,” said Eakins, noting he realizes that there is a lot of work that goes into it at both the league and NHLPA levels. “I think the league has done an incredible job at promoting our game. It continues to grow and maybe (bringing back a best-on-best tournament) will help it. I personally think it would, but that’s way above my pay grade.

“As a coach, you already watch a lot of hockey. If I miss a period of a game here or there, I’m not that concerned about it. I would not miss a period of those (best-on-best) games, that’s for sure.”

And that’s the point.

Best-on-best hockey has the potential to be must-see TV.

Not just for those who are already passionate about the sport, but for those who have yet to be drawn in by the action on the ice.

Eakins was a teenager when Lemieux and Gretzky played together for the first time at the 1987 Canada Cup.

Just imagine the possibilities for teams that would include McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby or Auston Matthews with Jack Eichel and Jack Hughes or Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine.

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The possibilities are endless and it’s not just the established hockey communities that will benefit.

Watching the best at their craft on the world stage might inspire someone from a place where hockey is currently an afterthought to make it one day, maybe even become a bona fide star.

“I don’t even think you have to be a fan of the sport,” said Eakins. “I’ll go to baseball games to kick back and relax and watch the game and kind of enjoy it. I’m not a (big) baseball fan, but I watched a ton of that (WBC) game the other day, just because it was the best against the best.

“Those Canada Cups and those players on the ice together, it’s amazing to think about that and how you felt as a kid coming up. I think that really drives the game at the youth level. You can really get kids interested and even more passionate and more inspired to play.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Some of my early hockey memories include watching the 1980 Miracle on Ice at my Grandma Derksen’s house.

Did I have a true grasp of what that moment meant as a five-year-old?

Not at all. But you could tell it was special.

To this day, when New York Islanders great Ken Morrow is in the building or shown on a scoreboard, my mind goes back to that Team USA moment.

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Watching the 1987 Canada Cup fuelled my personal passion for hockey and only enhanced my appreciation for players like Gretzky, Lemieux and the late Dale Hawerchuk.

Los Angeles Kings head coach Todd McLellan was the bench boss for the Team North America club that generated so much buzz at the last edition of the World Cup.

When asked a question about best-on-best hockey at the Kings practice facility in El Segundo, McLellan shared some of the various points of view.

“There are a lot of different perspectives when you promote your opinion. Todd, the fan, I want to see it, it’s great,” said McLellan. “Todd, the coach, I have some concerns about the high-end athletes that end up in these events. If you lose one (to injury), then what? Todd, the owner, I’m not but I would be even more concerned about that. So, there’s different levels of concern and rightfully so for everyone involved.

“But that experience with Team North America was outstanding. Look at that roster, and some of the players left off (it), they’re the superstars right now in the league. That team was unique, it was a lot of fun and an outstanding experience for me individually and I hope for the players as well.”

Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers was part of the Denmark team that went on a Cinderella run at the World Junior Hockey Championship in 2015 and he saw the impact that moment had on the sport in his country.

He took enormous pride in seeing the growth of the hockey program and also helped Denmark qualify for the 2022 Olympics, only to be denied the opportunity to be an Olympian when the NHL and IIHF couldn’t come to an agreement to send NHL players to the event.

“It’s something Denmark has battled for for many years and we hadn’t been able to make it and we had guys crying when we won in Norway (to qualify for 2022). Even though I wasn’t able to go, watching Denmark do well and play well at a tournament like that, I was proud,” said Ehlers. “When you have great results with your national team in tournaments like that, it creates a buzz around the country that gets more kids to start playing (hockey).

“When we played in the world junior in Toronto, we were called the darlings and we lost 8-0 to Canada in the quarterfinal and we got a standing ovation after the game. It was pretty special. When you see the best players play hockey against each other, that’s exciting for everyone and that’s the stuff that grows the game as well as you can.”

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Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck got a taste of international play at the IIHF World Men’s Hockey Championship and was the third goalie at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and he’s eager for another shot when the stakes are even higher.

“Anytime you can showcase the players and the league in a different way, it seems to go over well,” said Hellebuyck. “Anytime you get the best on best, it just shows true talent and true talent comes out.”

Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois is someone who keeps an eye on many sports with global appeal and he came to this discussion armed with some numbers to support his beliefs.

“There’s a lot of things where the NHL is behind, in terms of other sports,” said Dubois. “I love watching other sports to see what they do and what not. You see numbers and viewerships and they don’t lie. Everybody has their own opinions but at the end of the day, numbers don’t lie. If we really want to grow the game, this is how you do it.

“I saw a Tweet that said Bryce Harper’s home run in the (2022) World Series had five million views in six months. Trea Turner’s walk-off home run had six million views in three hours. If we want to grow the game – and I think everybody is on board for that – if we keep doing the same things and expect different results, you know what they say about people that do that. (Best on best) would be great, it would be fun, players would love it and fans would love it. I don’t know why we shouldn’t.”

Are there concerns about an elite player suffering an injury like the one that will keep New York Mets pitcher Edwin Diaz out for the entire season?

Of course.

But you can make the argument that injuries, while unfortunate, are a part of the game when it’s played at any level and can happen every single day, on and off the ice.

Is something like insurance a legitimate concern for a sport and its players involved with a multi-billion dollar business?

Naturally, but it has to be worth the short and long-term investment at the end of the day.

The sooner the NHL and the NHLPA can come to an agreement on the proper path forward for the next best-on-best event, the better off the sport is going to be.

“I hope so,” said Morrissey, asked if he was confident the issues would be sorted out sooner rather than later. “When you look at the star power in the game right now, it’s as good as it’s ever been and with the technology and the way media is distributed around the world, it’s easier than it’s ever been before when you have the best on best in those opportunities.

“Obviously there are reasons we haven’t been involved, but I sure hope so. I think it’s just a shame we haven’t seen MacKinnon, McDavid, Matthews and guys like that compete against each other in the Olympics in events like that. I would love to have the opportunity at some point of my career to play on that kind of stage and to be considered for a team like that. So the answer is unequivocally, yes. I hope we get that (opportunity) and we get it soon.”


If you thought the Minnesota Wild would simply fold the tent after losing star forward Kirill Kaprizov to a knee injury earlier this month, you thought wrong. Not only have the Wild found a way to stay afloat in the Western Conference, they woke up Sunday morning in sole possession of top spot in the Central Division, one point up on the Dallas Stars with nine games left to play for each team. They’ve gone 5-1-2 in Kaprizov’s absence and the lone loss in regulation was to the league-leading Boston Bruins.

The Colorado Avalanche aren’t going away either. After Sunday afternoon’s shootout win against the Arizona Coyotes, the Avalanche have gone 15-4-1 over the past 20 outings. Colorado is inching towards full health and their star players have been on fire of late. Centre Nathan MacKinnon was riding an 11-game point streak before Sunday and collected his 30th multi-point game of the season on Friday, moving him into a tie with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner for sixth in the NHL in points (93). Defenceman Cale Makar became the Avalanche franchise leader for game-winning goals on Friday, notching the 19th of his career to move past Tyson Barrie. Entering Sunday, Makar had four goals and 19 points during a nine-game point streak, so it’s safe to say he’s rounding into form after returning to full health.

The New Jersey Devils became the third NHL team to reach 100 points for the season and by doing so, punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2018. That’s an impressive achievement and given the up-tempo style they play, the Devils figure to be a team that’s going to be fun to watch as the stakes get higher. Although the Jack Adams Trophy should belong to Jim Montgomery of the Bruins, Lindy Ruff should be on a lot of ballots for the coach of the year award, that’s for sure.

A quick stick tap is in order for New York Islanders forward Zach Parise, who has quietly put together an impressive season. At the age of 38, Parise sits third on the Islanders in goals with 20, sitting behind only Brock Nelson (32) and Anders Lee (27). The Islanders don’t score easily or often and quite simply, they wouldn’t be in the chase for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference were it not for the production of Parise, who has 31 points in 74 games and hit the 20-goal mark for the 11th time in his career but the first time since 2019-20 when he was still a member of the Minnesota Wild.

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