By Mike McMahon | Sept. 15, 2016, 6:58 p.m. (ET)
Zach Parise fires the puck against Sami Vatanen f Finland in the first period during the men's ice hockey bronze-medal game at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 22, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.


The World Cup of Hockey returns on Saturday after a 12-year hiatus, with games scheduled at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Eight teams, including six national teams and two select continental teams, will be split into two groups for preliminary round games. The semifinals will take place on Sept. 24 and 25 with the finals starting on Sept. 27. The semis are single elimination, while the finals are a best-of-three format.

Group A consists of Canada, the Czech Republic, the United States and Team Europe, a select team of players whose European countries are not represented in the tournament.

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Group B includes Finland, Russia, Sweden and Team North America, a select team of Canadian and U.S. players who are 23 years old or under.

The top two teams in each group will advance to the knockout stage.

Here’s what you need to know:


The History
The World Cup of Hockey is taking place for the first time since 2004, and it will be the third time in history that the tournament is played.

Team USA won the inaugural tournament in 1996 after finishing undefeated in its group and then beating Canada in the final, a dramatic three-game series that included the Americans dropping the first game 4-3 before back-to-back 5-2 wins.

Eight years later, in 2004, Canada beat Finland in the final, with Team USA falling short of the knockout stage after taking third in its group behind Canada and Russia.

The original concept of the World Cup of Hockey was to replace the Canada Cup, which was an international tournament held five times between 1976 and 1991. The idea behind the World Cup is to determine a true world champion, similar to the Olympic Winter Games. 


Doesn’t Hockey Already Have A World Championship?
The IIHF, like other sports federations, runs an annual world championship, but that tournament coincides with the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, and many of the world’s best players aren’t able to compete due to playoff obligations or injuries sustained during the NHL season. By running the World Cup of Hockey during the NHL’s preseason, it gives the world’s best players an opportunity to wear their country’s colors.


What To Expect From Team USA
There are a lot of familiar names on Team USA’s roster, including many national team mainstays and 14 Olympians. But don’t expect to see an all-star team with four lines looking to score goals.

Patrick Kane, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise and Joe Pavelski should all be among the top two forward lines, while David Backes and Justin Abdelkader, for example, seem to slot in perfectly as grinders with the ability to contribute on the penalty kill.

Meanwhile, two-time Olympian Phil Kessel, an elite scorer, was left off Team USA’s roster. 

Why?

Because players like Backes and Abdelkader fill a necessary role in slowing down some of the elite skills Team USA will be facing against Canada and others. U.S. coach John Tortorella has also utilized small-area games in practice in an effort to get those players used to playing in tight spaces and forcing them to utilizing some physicality. 

The result is an identity to the U.S. team that not many others in the tournament have.

A defensive corps featuring some size and muscle — as well as a lot of veteran names — should also help to slow down the super-skilled Canadians. Among the leaders for Team USA should be NHL veterans like Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh and Dustin Byfuglien.

Earlier this week, Jonathan Quick was named the starter for Team USA in goal. He’ll be backed up by Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider. Quick helped Team USA to a silver medal at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games and also played for Team USA in 2014 in Sochi. He also has two Stanley Cups to his credit, winning with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.


What To Expect From Team North America
Team North America is the future of the NHL, come to life on one team. The squad, governed by the IIHF, will feature a blend of both Americans and Canadians. The twist being that all players are 23 years old or under.

Despite being nearly a decade younger than their opponents, on average, the talent on this roster is hard to overlook.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of Team North America is that Canadian superstar Connor McDavid, the team’s captain, and his American counterpart from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Jack Eichel, will be on the same roster.

Along with them is Arizona native and 2016 first-overall pick, Auston Matthews.

Team North America also features Seth Jones — like Eichel and Matthews, a product of the U.S. National Development Program — as well as Johnny Gaudreau.

With Gaudreau and Eichel, Team North America has two of the last three Hobey Baker Award winners, which is given annually to the best player in college hockey.

Somehow, a team with five of the last six first-overall picks is considered underdogs coming into this tournament due to their youth. One thing Team North America has going for it is its speed. It could be the fastest team in the entire field.


Team USA Schedule

9/17, vs. Team Europe, 3:30
9/20, vs. Canada, 8 p.m.
9/22, vs. Czech Republic, 8 p.m.


Team North America Schedule

9/18, vs. Finland, 8 p.m.
9/19, vs. Russia, 8 p.m.
9/21, vs. Sweden, 3 p.m.


Semifinals

9/24, 7 p.m.
9/25, 1 p.m.


Finals

9/27, Game 1, 8 p.m.
9/29, Game 2, 8 p.m.
10/1, Game 3, 7 p.m. (if necessary)

Mike McMahon is a Boston-based writer who has covered hockey for College Hockey News and other outlets since 2006. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.