It’s finally here. After a 12-year absence, the World Cup of Hockey has returned. And after more than a year of preparations, roster announcements, pre-tournament games and building hype, the tournament will officially drop the puck Saturday.

The eight-team event, featuring many of the NHL’s biggest stars, six national teams and two mixed squads of North Americans age 23 and under, and NHL players from the European countries that did not get an invite, will be held in Toronto Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Each of the eight teams will play three preliminary-round games starting Saturday. The top two teams from each group advance to a single-elimination semifinal. Whichever two teams advance out of the semis will play in a best-of-three series to determine the 2016 World Cup of Hockey champion.

This will be the third World Cup of Hockey ever held by the NHL. The first was in 1996, where Team USA unexpectedly won two straight games in Montreal to defeat Canada in the best-of-three series. In the 2004 World Cup, Canada knocked off Finland in the final to claim the crown.

World Cup TV and streaming

The World Cup of Hockey will be carried live on ESPN’s family of networks, primarily ESPN and ESPN2, marking the first time NHL-related hockey has been aired by the cable TV giant since 2004. All games will also be streamed live on and the WatchESPN app. All games, times and TV listings are below.

Note: Designated home teams listed second. All games played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto

Saturday, Sept. 17

USA vs. Europe, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The U.S. has the duty of opening the tournament with the mixed roster of Team Europe. Jonathan Quick will start in net for the Americans as Team USA looks to start the tournament off on the right foot against a Europe team that seemed to find its groove in its last pre-tournament game.

Czech Republic vs. Canada, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS: The tournament hosts will look to give the home crowd something to cheer about early as they enter the tournament a heavy favorite. The Czechs have been viewed as one of the tournament’s weakest teams, but showed during the pre-tournament that they won’t be a pushover.

Sunday, Sept. 18

Sweden vs. Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN: Group B gets underway with an absolute barn-burner of an opening tilt. The Russians, led by Alex Ovechkin and a deep bench of highly-skilled forwards will go toe-to-toe with the tournament’s best defense corps from Sweden. Henrik Lundqvist looked shaky in the pre-tournament, but he’ll have to be at his best with Russia’s litany of snipers.

North America vs. Finland, 8 p.m. ESPN2: Connor McDavid will captain the young North Americans against a younger-than-usual Finnish squad in a game that should be big on speed. Penguins goalie and recent Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray is expected to get the nod in net for North America, while Pekka Rinne will get the nod over Tuukka Rask for Finland to start the tournament.

Monday, Sept. 19

Europe vs. Czech Republic, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Regardless of the results for these teams on opening day, this is a must-win game for both teams. Neither is expected to have much of a chance to advance out of the prelims, but whoever loses this game pretty much definitely won’t.

Russia vs. North America, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2: If the youngsters want to advance out of the prelims, this is a game they have to have. Russia will get a few extra hours rest for this capper of an early back-to-back in the tournament. With the offensive talent both teams possess — Ovechkin, McDavid, Tarasenko, Gaudreau, etc. — this is going to be a must-see game.

Tuesday, Sept. 20

Finland vs. Sweden, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: In a day that features two border battles, a much more experienced Swedish squad will be looking to capitalize on a fresh-faced Finnish defense. Every game in the prelims is important, but these rivalry matchups are the ones the teams want just a little more.

Canada vs. USA, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN: This is the game everyone wants to see. After two incredibly physical exhibition games, it’s going to be fun to see what a game that counts looks like. The U.S. has taken the strategy of trying to assert themselves physically, while Canada has proven to be a possession juggernaut who can dish out the punishment, too. USA actually gets the last change in this game to set the matchups. Expect fireworks in this one.

Wednesday, Sept. 21

North America vs. Sweden, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: In their last games of group play, this very well could end up being for first place in Group B. Sweden’s edge in experience, especially on the blue line, could give them the advantage against a team that will be looking to overwhelm them with speed.

Europe vs. Canada, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2: This very well could be a coronation as Canada should be able to overmatch the shallower European squad. The Canadians should be playing for first place in the group. This game should also afford them the opportunity to give Carey Price a break to prepare for the semis.

Thursday, Sept. 22

Finland vs. Russia, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: On the last day of group play, each team is going to know exactly what they need to do to advance. If one of these two teams beats North America and/or Sweden in previous games, they’ll be playing for a spot in the semis.

USA vs. Czech Republic, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Depending on how Team USA does against Canada, this could prove to be a must-win game with a spot in the semis on the line. Both the Americans and the Czechs have the benefit of not having to play any back-to-backs in the tournament, so both should be well-rested for the final matchup

Saturday, Sept. 24

Semifinal 1: TBD (B2) vs. TBD (A1), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Saturday, Sept. 25

Semifinal 2: TBD (A2) vs. TBD (B1), 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Championship Series

Game 1: Tuesday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 29, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Game 3 (if necessary): Saturday, Oct. 1, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Source: CBS Sports Headlines / 2016 World Cup of Hockey: How to watch on TV and live stream