John Tavares talks strongly about best-against-best hockey: ‘We need it’

TAMPA – John Tavares captured some emotion last Sunday.

The captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs sailed on the Gardiner Expressway on his usual work commute from his home in High Park to the Scotiabank Arena. He glanced to his left and from a distance he was soaked by the scene at BMO Field, where the Canadian men’s national football team was busy beating its ticket to the World Cup.

“Just a full house. A great moment in Canadian football and for those players,” Tavares said after his Leafs took care of the Florida Panthers that night. “Seeing them back in the World Cup is great.”

Tavares spoke with pride, absolutely. But he certainly also felt a tinge of envy.

The 31-year-old is what one of his national coaches called a “league winner.” He’s also a fierce patriot when it comes to answering Team Canada’s calls.

Tavares represented the red and whites at a Super Series, two world championships for juniors, three world championships, an Olympic Games plus a world championship in hockey. He has five gold medals to show for.

Even when the NHL players were locked out in 2012, Tavares jumped on a plane and won another gold at the Spengler Cup for his country.

Tavares is a best-in-best junkie, and – like the fans who follow this amazing sport – he has been deprived of an international tournament since 2016, where he scored four points in Canada’s golden six-match race.

So it was no big surprise to hear Tavares speak firmly and passionately about the need for the Ice Hockey World Cup to come back strongly in 2024.

“We need it,” Tavares said after Sunday’s Leafs training session at Amalie Arena. “It’s important for our game, especially considering this next generation of players we have now. With Papi [Auston Matthews]Mitchy [Marner], [Leon] Draisaitl, Connor [McDavid], [Cale] Makar, this is a bit of the next wave of guys.

“And of course we still have so many great players – and Sid and Ovie lead as two of the best ever – who will stay later in their careers. I think when you have best-against-best hockey, you bring everyone together those players. It’s really special. We do not really understand that. To play for your country, we know how rare it is. ”

Tavares has a special understanding of these possibilities. Yes, he won gold in Sochi the last time NHL players participated in the Olympics, but a knee-injured quarter-final deprived him of skating in the medal rounds.

Tavares was one of the few who spoke openly at training camp about his fierce desire to play in Beijing. Heck, he even modeled Team Canada’s casual gear for Lululemon before COVID shattered the dream.

Tavares is obviously encouraged that the Players’ Association and the NHL brass have met several times over the last few months to plan the next World Cup of Hockey, which is likely to feature some European play-in games (August 2023 has been launched). ) and several host cities.

There is some trait at a February 2024 tournament and the IIHF will have to get involved before a plan is formalized.

And while Beijing crumbled apart for the pros, players have been promised participation in the Milan Cortina 2026 Winter Games in good faith.

Tavares will not be happy with another one-time World Cup. He wants a regular, reliable best-against-best competition. Like football.

“Other sports have a really good job with that. We have to develop some kind of calendar that is really consistent. I think it gives a lot of clarity to players, to the league, to everyone. Regardless. whether it’s an event, a few events, would have some of it be really good for our game and good for everyone. “

So does Tavares think it’s a good thing that Team North America and Team Europe are disappearing?

“Yes, I do,” said Tavares. “We want to see Connor and Sid play together. And I think it was unique last time and something else – created some excitement and some buzz.

“But I think without a doubt, especially when we skip the Olympics this year, everyone is playing for their country, that national pride, best of all, is hard to recreate. And that’s so rare for us.”

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