After watching the young North American squad crush Team Europe in its pre-tournament matchups, one word immediately came to mind: Speed. From the initial moments of the team’s first game against Team Europe, the skating and cycling ability of these young superstars became apparent. They came out flying and controlled the tempo from the onset. The North Americans would go on to carry their early momentum to two convincing victories over Europe in pre-tournament exhibitions. The youth filled team kept up their fact pace and picked up where they left off with a dominating performance against Team Finland in their first tournament round robin matchup. This is a team that is certainly beginning to turn some heads.
I have to admit I was a bit hesitant when I first heard about the concept of having combination teams of Team North America (comprised of American and Canadian players age 23 and under) and Team Europe (made up of numerous different countries with less depth in skill) play in this year’s World Cup. I thought that this idea would partly take away from national pride that makes these tournaments special for the players. This may be the case for the veteran Team Europe but upon seeing the tempo and fun displayed by team North America I quickly began to not only change my opinion of the idea, but I began to realize this team may have a shot a competing in the finals.
Just looking at the roster there is an amazing amount of young talent playing together that fans may never have otherwise gotten to see. Future NHL superstars such as Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, and Shayne Gostisbehere are getting a chance to put their elite-level skills and creativity on display. The offense as a whole is made up of 4 lines of potential future first line NHLers. The team also gives us a chance to see how this years first overall pick Auston Matthews fares against NHL competition. In addition to Mathews the roster as a whole contains 4 additional previous first overall draft picks. The blazing speed of players like McDavid, Mark Scheifele, Dylan Larkin, and others is fun to watch and it has been a strength that has made them difficult to match up with, even for the more seasoned veteran teams.
Being in a grouping with traditional powers Finland, Sweden, and Russia would appear to present a daunting task for this very young team, but so far their skating ability and puck movement has made up for what they lack in experience. Plus its not as if these players don’t have prior national tournament experience with the majority of the roster having played in the world junior championships within the last few years. Possibly the best winning experience the team has comes from starting goaltender Matt Murray, who is just coming off being thrust into a Stanley Cup run for the Pittsburgh Penguins. His ability to win big games certainly was on display during last season’s playoffs. Unfortunately after getting chased against Russia, it appeared that Murray injured his thumb. As a result, John Gibson will get the nod in goal against Sweden.
It remains to be seen if the kids can keep up their fast-paced aggressive tempo against the star veteran defenseman on the Swedish squad, but if they can continue to play their game like they did against Finland we may be able to see this team sneak into a top 2 finish in their grouping. Although they dropped their game to the dynamic high firepower Russian team, they still showed a lot. If they knock off Sweden this afternoon they will still have a shot at moving on. This would put them in the next round with a chance to surprise a lot of people and compete.
Do I think they would be able to take down an absolutely stacked Team Canada? That may be more of a long shot, but this team may still be able to come away from the tournament with a top 4 finish, surprising a lot of fans, analysts, and players alike. Their speed and creativity will give them a legitimate chance to play the role of the dark horse team that can still pull off a Cinderella run.