Team North America and Team Finland are the last two teams to begin preliminary round play at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. They meet at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).
Team North America, made up of players 23 and younger from Canada and the United States, is a wild card and looked impressive in pretournament play. Team Finland has added an infusion of young talent to a core group that has contributed to international success in the past few years.
Here are the reasons for optimism for Team North America and Team Finland:
1. Speed thrills: With nothing but young legs, Team North America looked like the fastest of the eight teams during pretournament action. It might not be a stretch to say that, from top to bottom, this is the fastest hockey team ever assembled. That kind of speed should lead to a lot of odd-man rushes and scoring chances. Any opponent who gets caught watching the puck will be out of position quickly.
2. Old head, young legs: Coach Todd McLellan has been one of the NHL's most successful coaches during the past decade and seems to be a perfect choice to give direction to a talented young team. Team North America is already absorbing what he's teaching in terms of puck support and play in its own zone. McLellan should be able to keep his young players confident and they should jell more as the tournament goes along.
3. Next generation: If the team that carried Finland to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship is any indication, Team Finland will be in good shape in the years to come. The best of the young players is forward Patrik Laine, who has the personality to be a star and the game to match. Laine, taken by the Winnipeg Jets with the second pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has shown his skill during the pretournament games and at the 2016 World Championship and. He's big, fast, has a terrific shot and is confident in his ability. Laine is slated to play on a line with 21-year-old center Aleksander Barkov, one of the NHL's top young players.
4. Dynamic duo: One reason for Finland's recent international success has been its goaltending. Either Tuukka Rask or Pekka Rinne is capable of carrying a team during a short tournament. Their style is similar; they're active, aggressive goaltenders who rely more on their reactive skills than positioning and technique. Each has had international success: Rask helped Finland win the bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Rinne was MVP at the 2014 World Championship and the top goaltender at the tournament a year later.