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Let’s make a FIFA-style World Cup of Hockey

What if we had a best-on-best tournament on the scale of soccer?

World Cup Of Hockey 2016 - Team Russia vs. Team North America Photo by Vaughn Ridley/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images

This weekend, the 22nd FIFA World Cup kicks off from Qatar, which was definitely not a controversial hosting decision. The World Cup is one of sports greatest spectacles, featuring 32 countries putting their best men forward to battle on the pitch.

In 1996, the NHL and IIHF tried to spring off their version, the World Cup of Hockey. It was a great success, but apparently not a recreatable one. They were able to scrap together tournaments in 2004 and 2016, but haven’t been able to get a consistent, four-year rotation going. The NHL had plans to fix that starting in 2024, but they’re being put on hold due to a certain country deciding that an international border was merely a suggestion, and then committing war crimes when the other country disagreed.

But what if that wasn’t the case? What if the NHL was able to be a competent organization and not only replicate FIFA’s four-year cycle, but match it’s scope? Let’s see what a 32-team World Cup of Hockey would look like.

How the FIFA World Cup works

The World Cup features 32 countries in eight groups of four. Each group plays a round robin, and then the top two teams in each group advance to a 16-team, single-elimination bracket. We’re going to replicate this system for the expanded WCH.

But how are those teams decided? FIFA designates a certain number of teams to each continent, and then those continents host tournaments to determine who plays in each slot. There’s 13 European spots, six Asian, five African, and four each for North and South America.

The teams are then assigned to the groups by a semi-random draw. The host nation automatically enters as the top seed in Group A, with the next seven best teams (determined by a FIFA national ranking) are drawn into Groups B through H. Then, the next eight are placed in as the two seeds, etc. The exception is there can’t be any teams from the same continent in the same group. The exception to that is that there can be two European countries in the same group, since there’s more than eight European countries that qualify.

How we’re changing that

Due to the distribution of IIHF members, there literally is not enough North American, South American, or African countries to fill out their spots. To fix that, we’re redistributing the slots, with Europe getting 16, Asia getting eight, and the “World” getting eight.

There’s still only six countries in our World group, however. How are we getting to eight, then? Team North America! The U-23 phenoms from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey return, because it’s fun and those who tell you otherwise are wrong. We’re also going to pretend Iceland is in the Americas for our final spot.

Speaking of ignoring geography, we’re also designating Russia and Turkey as Asian. Yes, I know they normally compete in UEFA. No, I do not care. If Israel can join UEFA, they can join our pretend governing body for Asian ice hockey.

Finally, instead of somehow simulating qualifying tournaments, we’re just going to use the IIHF World Rankings, filling countries into regions until they’re full and calling it a day.

Qualified teams and groups

Europe is the most straightforward; their worst qualifying country, Hungary, is ranked 20th in the World. Predictably, a lot of “undeserving” teams make it in, with a quarter of the teams ranked 33rd or lower. The full list is below:

Europe Europe, pt 2 Asia World
Finland (1) Norway (12) Russia (3) Canada (2)
Sweden (5) France (13) Kazakstan (16) USA (4)
Czechia (6) Belarus (14) South Korea (21) North America U23
Switzerland (7) Austria (15) Japan (25) Iceland (34)
Slovakia (8) Italy (17) China (26) Mexico (35)
Germany (9) Great Britain (18) Israel (33) Australia (36)
Denmark (10) Slovenia (19) Turkey (38) New Zealand (42)
Latvia (11) Hungary (20) Taiwain (39) South Africa (50)

For the groups, we’re using the rankings to seed the teams 1-32. I decided to designate North America as the 10 seed, between Germany and Denmark, and the United States as the host nation.

I then drew the 2-8 seeds, followed by 9-16, 17-24, and 25-32, using a random number generator to decide the spots. I than “fixed” the groups to make them all have two European nations, one Asian, and one World. Here’s the final results:

Group A USA France Slovenia Turkey
Group B Switzerland North America Italy Israel
Group C Sweden Germany South Korea South Africa
Group D Czechia Norway Kazakstan Mexico
Group E Canada Latvia Great Britain Taiwan
Group F Slovakia Denmark China New Zealand
Group G Russia Belarus Hungary Iceland
Group H Finland Austria Japan Australia

Host cities and bracketology

I decided to go with eight host cities, one for each group. I choose New York (Group B), Los Angeles (H), and Chicago (C) because they’re big, Washington (A) because it’s the capitol, Denver (F) and Pittsburgh (G) because they’re big hockey markets, and Seattle (E) because it should make a convenient “home” site for Canada. I also decided to use this as an opportunity to test Houston (Group D) as a hockey market, and with it’s proximity to Mexico, hopefully help to grow the game there.

I also thing a format similar to NCAA’s March Madness would work well here, with four cities hosting the first two rounds of playoffs before handing it off for the semis and final. I chose Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and Seattle as the “Sweet 16” hosts, and New York City to host the “Final Four.”

Scheduling could also follow March Madness’s format, to a degree. Have the group stage over the first week or so, then run the bracket from Thursday to Sunday on the pair of weekends.

That’s my pitch for a FIFA-style World Cup of Hockey! Let me know what you think in the comments. Feel free to also use this as an open thread for the actual World Cup going on.