TORONTO — The speed and skill of Team North America has captured the imagination of fans watching the World Cup of Hockey.
The methodical, self-proclaimed “boring” play of Team Europe has just captured two victories.
Three days into the World Cup of Hockey, Europe is the first team to four points and has shown it belongs in this tournament. By beating the United States and the Czech Republic, the European all-star group of players from Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Denmark, Austria, Norway and France sent a message that it’s not an underdog.
“Coming in here at 33-1 longshot, the Las Vegas bookies, it’s a lot of fun,” coach Ralph Krueger said. “I just never believed those numbers. We’ve never used any negative motivators in our process. It’s always been about us finding our potential, and the belief that we could match with anybody here at this tournament.”
Europe has found its potential. Offensive production has come from Germany’s Leon Draisaitl, Slovakia’s Zdeno Chara, Slovenia’s Anze Kopitar and more.
But no one expected even this collection of European stars from non-power countries to come together like this and play like a national team.
“There’s just complete buy-in on this group,” Krueger said. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like this as a coach in 25 years of head coaching, where a group just bought in so quickly and sacrificed for each other.”
Players have their native flags stitched on their shoulders, but the NHL-created Team Europe crest isn’t something they dreamt of playing for. North America’s Johnny Gaudreau even scoffed at a question about the crest on his jersey on Sunday, because it’s not something that existed even a year ago.
That’s what makes Europe’s impressive showing at the World Cup even more impressive. Its 33-to-1 odds were the longest of any team on the board, and Draisaitl’s overtime goal against the Czech Republic on Monday put Europe on the verge of a spot in the semifinals.
“I’m just so proud of the way the players have come together in this short period of time, how they’re representing their countries on their arms and as a group how we’ve come together,” Krueger said. “This is really not luck, guys.”
It’s not luck. It’s talent.
Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak has stopped 63 of 65 shots in his first meaningful games since March because of a groin injury, Chara is doing his job on defense and Kopitar and Marian Hossa are supplying strong play up front. Those players are all NHL stars and together they’ve fared better than any one of their national teams would have against this level of competition.
“We’re certainly very excited at what we did so far with the two games,” Kopitar said. “We’re staying in the moment. We’ve certainly realized that we have a pretty special thing going here.”
After winning two games, Krueger proclaimed Europe is “not done.” A win by Canada in its game against the United States puts Europe into the semifinals, but don’t expect this sewn-together all-star team to suddenly think it’s not a 33-to-1 shot to win the World Cup.
Favored Canada awaits Wednesday.
“Definitely that’s going to be a different animal,” Hossa said. “It’s going to be a great measurement of where we’re at. Obviously they’re huge favorites at home, so we’ll try to surprise them.”
Just like Europe has surprised everyone so far.
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