By PHIL NOVOTNY
The World Cup of Hockey is one of the most climactic tournaments in the sport. Similar to the Olympics, national pride and the showcasing of professional talent are the pinnacle of this prestigious event. With that said, here are some of the storylines highlighting the results in Toronto.
The LETDOWN OF TEAM USA
“This is the year to beat Canada,” is usually the thought of hockey-crazed Americans going into major tournaments. Yet, the U.S. has come up short against their archrivals from north of the border numerous times in the past decade. Notably, the U.S.’s downfalls in the 2010 Gold Medal Game and the 2014 Olympic semifinal to Canada still make American sports patriots cringe to this day.
Unfortunately, the narrative did not change this time around for the U.S., and the letdown was not exclusive to falling to Team Canada. Before Team USA’s eventual 4-2 defeat to Canada in the second game of the Group Stage, they had to go up against Team Europe.
The matchup consisted of minimal but quality chances for Team Europe. In fact, Team Europe got out to an early 2-0 lead after forwards Marian Gaborik and Leon Draisaitl capitalized on USA goalie Jonathan Quick. Team USA initially cut the lead to 2-1, but video review concluded that forward James van Riemsdyk illegally directed the puck toward the net, negating the goal. The final result was a 3-0 victory for Team Europe.
Quick’s lackluster efforts continued against Canada even though defenseman Ryan Mcdonagh gave Team USA an early 1-0. However, Team Canada’s firepower was too much for USA to handle. Tallies by forwards Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron and Matt Duchene, who netted two goals on the night, put the nail in the coffin for Team USA to advance to the semifinals.
USA switched up goalies for their last matchup of the tournament and started backup
Ben Bishop. Despite the change, Bishop allowed four goals on 20 shots taken by the Czechs en route to a 4-3 loss for Team USA. To round out the tournament, the U.S. finished with a minus-6 goal differential, trailing only Team Finland.
At the end of the day, there needs to be a fundamental change in Team USA’s philosophy moving forward because what they’re doing now is not cutting it. As reported by the Associated Press, Team USA head coach John Tortorella sounds off on the Tournament. “The bottom line is that we leave here with nothing,” Tortorella said. “Certainly we can’t be happy about that.”
TEAM NORTH AMERICA’S EMERGING NUCLEUS
Team North America, who finished 2-1 in the Group Stage, failed to make it out of Group B with a semifinal appearance due to Russia defeating Team North America in their head-to-head matchup 4-3. But, North America’s young talent put on a display in their three tournament games that sparked a vision of the future for this team. Some of the team’s young talent included forwards Connor McDavid, Jack EIchel and Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Drouin, Nathan Mackinnon; the list goes on and on.
Gaudreau, Eichel, Mackinnon and Drouin all recorded goals in their Group B opener against Finland, which ended in a 4-1 victory for Team North America. They outshot Finland 43-25 on the evening and their stellar performance was reinforced by netminder and recent Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray who had 24 saves in the opener.
In their defeat against Team Russia, MacDavid, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft set up Matthews, the 2016 first overall selection, to give Team North America an early 1-0 lead. On a night where Team North America outshot the opposition 46-25 on the evening and 19-4 in the third period, they were held steady by Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Though Team North America didn’t advance, the 23-and-under squad did not go quietly into the night. They finished strong with overtime thriller over Team Sweden. Notably, the goal of the tournament was scored on backhander by Mackinnon on Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist to seal a 4-3 win for Team North America in overtime.
It will be debated for years to come if teams are going to follow the 23-and-under format for all countries in the World Cup of Hockey. Team North America’s play in the tournament makes a strong case to at least give a shot.
CANADA REASSURES WORLD DOMINANCE
Goalie Carey Price, forwards Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, and defenseman Brent Burns. Amongst many other star-studded names on Team Canada’s roster, these names set the gold standard for talent on the World Stage, and they all play for the same country. The World Cup of Hockey once again reinforced the fact that Team Canada is the best hockey team in the world.
Their preliminary game against the Czech Republic set the tone, as Team Canada cruised to a astonishing 6-0 victory with tallies by Burns and Toews in the process. Team Canada would win their next two games in Group A against Team USA (4-2) and Team Europe (5-3) to round out the Group.
On Saturday, they took on Team Russia in the semifinals, and started on the wrong foot. Canada trailed 2-1 late in the second period, until forward Brad Marchand tied the game right before the intermission. In the third period, Canada broke the game wide open with goals by Marchand, his second of the game, and by forwards Corey Perry and John Tavares to conclude a 5-3 win for the Canadians and a spot in the Final, which is a best of three series.
Phil Novotny can be reached at email@example.com