World Cup of Hockey: How it works, when it's held, what countries are in

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It's been a long, long while since hockey fans have gotten a taste of that glorious, best-on-best life.

Late-summer 2016, to be exact, was the last time the game's top talents clashed in an international-style event, with Team Canada defeating Team Europe in the final to claim the last World Cup of Hockey six years ago.

Since then, two Winter Olympics — PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022 — have come and gone without NHL players in the picture due to CBA standoffs, COVID-19, or a combination of both, leaving hockey fans desperate for the chance to catch the new wave of generational stars go at it in a meaningful tournament.

With the NHL and NHLPA officially agreeing last month to bring back the best-on-best spectacle for 2024 and details slowly starting to trickle out, here's what we know so far about the highly-anticipated event.

Background

The 2024 World Cup of Hockey will be just the fourth edition of the irregularly scheduled tournament as we know it today, with the U.S. claiming the title in 1996 and Canada taking it home in 2004 and 2016.

It replaced the event formally known as the Canada Cup, which was an international tournament held five times between 1976 and 1991. It was designed to be a true world championship allowing the top players in the world — whether they played in the NHL or as an "amateur" in Russia, the NCAA, or elsewhere — to compete in a best-on-best style format.

For over 20 years from 1976 onward, the Canada Cup turned World Cup was the only event offering the world's best a chance to compete for their countries against one another, as NHL players weren't allowed in the Winter Olympics until 1998.

Canada has actually won five of the last six best-on-best tournaments, including the 2002 Olympics, 2004 World Cup, 2010 and 2014 Olympics and the 2016 WC.

Team Canada claimed the last two World Cups in 2004 and 2016. (Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
Team Canada claimed the last two World Cups in 2004 and 2016. (Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

When it's held, impact on NHL season

According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the league is targeting a 17-day window in early-to-mid February for the event, with a couple days on each end reserved for travel. The tournament itself would last just over two weeks.

Unlike past World Cups that were essentially preseason tournaments held in the fall, the 2024 rendition will be held midseason — when the Olympics typically are. If NHLers do return to the next Winter Games, this, in theory, will provide an opportunity for best-on-best action every two years between the Olympics and World Cup events.

Whether that happens or the World Cup just ends up replacing the Olympics from an NHL participation standpoint, however, remains to be seen.

Where will the tournament be played?

The 2024 World Cup could feature a select handful of host cities across the U.S., Canada and Europe.

"We still want to play one pool in Europe, a preliminary round pool in Europe and a preliminary round pool in North America and move the semifinals and the final to a different city in North America likely. I think that short list would universally encompass more traditional hockey markets," Daly said in August via NHL.com.

Which countries will participate in 2024?

According to Daly, the event won't feature two polarizing, unique squads from the 2016 tournament.

Team North America, which was a 23-and-under All-Star unit featuring the likes of Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor Hellebuyck and Auston Matthews (along with some pretty badass uniforms) won't be in the mix in 2024. Neither will Team Europe, the finalist that lost to Canada last time. That group was comprised of players who didn't have national teams in the event like Slovenia's Anze Kopitar, Leon Draisaitl of Germany and Freddie Andersen of Denmark.

Instead, it's expected that 10 national teams will be included in the 2024 World Cup, with two teams being ousted in a qualification round to create an eight-team tourney, according to ESPN's Greg Wyshynski.

"For 2024, we may do a mini-qualifier as part of the tournament," Daly said, adding that the league hopes to hold the play-in tourney at the end of the preceding summer for future World Cup events after 2024.

Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, the Czechs, and some rendition of Russia will be locks, while nations like Slovakia, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, France and Austria will be in the mix for the final four spots.

Tournament schedule

You can find the full schedule for the 2024 World Cup of Hockey right here as soon as it's released.

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