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NHL Revives World Cup Of Hockey; Team North America Features Rising Stars

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Amid all the other sports news of September, football's return, the end of the baseball regular season, we have this - the World Cup of Hockey is kicking off. The world's best hockey players will be playing for their national teams and for their not-so-national teams. Commentator Hemal Jhaveri explains.

HEMAL JHAVERI, BYLINE: So you haven't heard of the World Cup of Hockey. That's OK, not many people have. The last time they had this was in 2004, but the NHL is bringing it back. It's partly a test run because the NHL is hoping to create its own international championship outside the Olympics. And of course, the league is hoping to make a lot of money off of this.

Now, the cynical among you might be tempted to brush off the idea as a marketing ploy, but I'm watching for one team in particular. The World Cup of Hockey will feature eight teams from countries known as ice hockey powerhouses like Russia and Sweden and, of course, there's the U.S. and Canada.

Now, there's also a team North America. Now wait. Back that up a second. With a team USA and Canada, why do we need a team North America? So team North America is made up of the NHL's best players from the U.S. and Canada who are under 23. They've been nicknamed the young guns. These are the rising stars who'll play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

We're talking about players like 19-year-old Austin Matthews, a hockey phenom from Scottsdale, Ariz., a big scorer with incredible footwork and a unique stick-handling style that comes from playing on smaller ice rinks in his desert hometown. He was number one in last year's draft, but the regular NHL season hasn't started yet, so the World Cup will be the first time he takes on the big stars.

The young players are out to prove themselves against veterans like Patrick Kane who plays for the Chicago Blackhawks and will be on Team USA and also Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. He'll be team Canada. I watched team North America in two exhibition games, and they're incredibly fast. They have a free-flowing style that some call undisciplined but is really fun to watch. They're all about offense and take every opportunity to score.

It's such a contrast to the veterans. The older players, some of who are the ripe old age of 28, will avoid racing up and down the ice to conserve energy and play defensive hockey to protect leads. It's not that much fun. I'm imagining a moment when young Austin Matthews gains control of the puck and races down the ice to score against team USA's 30-year-old goalie Jonathan Quick.

It's a glimpse of the future of the NHL and a possible changing of the guard. Yes, the stakes aren't as high as the Stanley Cup or the Olympics, but you'll see raw, hungry talent that's desperate to make their mark and establish their own legacy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Players at the ripe old age of 28. Hemal Jhaveri is a writer with USA Today's sports blog For The Win. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 13, 2016 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous byline misspelled Hemal Jhaveri's last name as Jhevani.