World Cup draws interesting reaction

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Talk of the World Cup of Hockey dominated much of the media-day sessions with the All-Stars here Friday, the proposed format drawing interesting reactions from the top players in the world.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association have a news conference scheduled for Saturday here to unveil World Cup details, the event returning in September/October 2016. As reported previously, the controversial decision to drop Slovakia and Switzerland from the eight-team tourney and replace those teams with an All-Star team made up of players from other European countries and a North American 23-and-under squad will certainly continue to generate reaction, especially once it's made official.

And if anyone has a right to complain among the All-Stars in Columbus, it would be New York Islanders netminder Jaroslav Halak, the only All-Star from Slovakia (no Swiss players were named to the All-Star Game). But instead, perhaps surprisingly, Halak welcomed the NHL's decision with the World Cup.

"I would say if it was 10 years ago, it would be upsetting because 10 years ago we had a lot of guys in the NHL," Halak said Friday. "Right now, we got maybe 12. So that would be tough to make a team out of 12 guys. Obviously, you need 20. It will be different to see [the Euro All-Star team], but at the same time I'm open to it. It would be nice to play with some other players from different countries."

Still, the fact that Slovakia recently won bronze at the world junior championships in Toronto and that Switzerland has made such huge strides over the past decade (beating Canada at the 2006 Olympics in Torino), it won't sit well with everyone that they're not getting their own national entries in the 2016 World Cup.

"I'm sure those two countries will be disappointed not having their own teams," said Czech native Patrick Elias of the New Jersey Devils. "Switzerland is a big part of the IIHF, they've done great the last few years, their hockey has got better and better and more competitive at every age group."

Then Elias smiled as he got to his pals from Slovakia.

"And the Slovaks, maybe they should put them with us? Reunited, maybe," he said, clearly joking.

No, the Slovak players will compete for roster spots on the rest-of-Europe team with players from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Latvia and, of course, Slovenia.

Los Angeles Kings star center Anze Kopitar, a Slovenian, will get to play in his first-ever World Cup because of this format change.

"I think the guys are trying to make it competitive and the best possible tournament it can be," Kopitar said Friday, when asked about the format change.

In many ways, Kopitar is the poster child for why the NHL and NHLPA are proposing the format. They want the most NHL stars possible in the tournament and this is way to get a player like Kopitar involved.

Kopitar said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr asked him for feedback weeks ago. At the same time, the Kings All-Star also understands why Slovakia and Switzerland might feel a little cheated.

"It's a tough thing to say; would it actually be better for the actual country? Probably, yeah," he said of Switzerland and Slovakia. "But the competition would probably be better if you put a strong team from Europe and come over and represent them."

In reality, the bigger pushback from people around the hockey world will likely come regarding the 23-and-under North American squad. There are rumblings that USA Hockey in particular isn't too keen on the idea, when you consider that Team USA will be deprived of young stars Brandon Saad, Alex Galchenyuk, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones and, of course, Jack Eichel. Those players will be 23 or younger by Sept. 1, 2016, the cut-off date, meaning they would have to play for the Young Guns entry, not Team USA.

It doesn't affect Canada quite as much because the Olympic champions have such a deep pool of stars to pick from. So the fact that Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid will have to play for the young stars team instead of Team Canada isn't the end of the world when you consider that Canada can still roll out Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares as their top five centers.

But for a guy like Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the thought of playing for the Young Guns in the World Cup is a thrilling one.

"It would definitely be an exciting thing to happen," Drouin said Friday. "It would be a little different, I guess, playing against your own country. But it might be fun with all those young guys on the same team."

And what of Bobby Ryan? His not being selected for the U.S. Olympic team in 2014 was well-documented in Scott Burnside's article on ESPN.com last year, which led to some sore feelings. What if Team USA comes calling for the World Cup?

"I would always play for my country if they called; to wear that jersey is incredible, I would always play," said Ryan, before setting up his punch line with a chuckle. "If it was Brian Burke calling, I'd probably let it ring a few extra times and make him sweat before I picked it up. Or even put him to voice mail and text him back. But I would always go if I could."

Stamkos was asked how it would be for those young stars to take on Team Canada in that tournament.

"That would be pretty intimidating," Stamkos said. "I don't know how I'd feel about that game. Whether I'd be cheering for them to win or our team to win. If that's the case, those guys will be pretty pumped up."

Ryan wondered how those 23-and-under players would feel playing Team USA.

"If you lost, inside you might say, 'Well, at least U.S.A. got a couple of points out of it,'" said Ryan. "It's going to be a weird thing for those kids. But that Young Guns thing will take on a life of its own."

But American and Canadians on the same team?

"I don't think Canadians like to play with Americans too much," said Team Canada Olympic stud Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. "I don't know how that'd work."

Lots of people are wondering how this format will work. Perhaps it will grow on us.