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Canada Makes Finals: What Else is New? Europe!

Islanders' John Tavares celebrates with his Canadian teammates during the World Cup of Hockey. (Photo via NY Islanders)

Islanders’ John Tavares celebrates with his Canadian teammates during the World Cup of Hockey. (Photo via NY Islanders)


When it comes to international play on the ice, it sure seems like Team Canada is the front-runner for most, if not all, tournaments except the IIHF World Championships because most of the really good Canadian boys are locked up with NHL Playoff action.  But even then, Team Canada is usually favored to win regardless of who’s missing.  But is the 2016 World Cup of Hockey Finals any different?

As I already examined a couple weeks ago leading up to the tournament, Team Canada is stacked with star-studded talent from Head Coach Mike Babcock to the backup netminders, Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby (2015-16 Vezina Trophy recipient).  Think about that for a second – this past season’s top NHL goaltender has been watching the games neither from the crease, nor the bench.

Canada went a perfect 3-0 in the round-robin portion of the tourney and defeated Team Russia in the semi-final round to advance to Tuesday night’s Finals opener.  On the way, Team Canada steamrolled past its now-upcoming opponent 4-1.  On the flipside, Team Europe won only once in regulation (as an American, I do not have any recollection of said game), once in OT against Team Czech Republic, and lost in regulation to Canada, as I just mentioned.  In pretournament play, Europe struggled early on to keep up with Team North America twice, but found its rhythm against King Henrik and the Swedes.  And in Sunday afternoon’s semi-final matchup, the Europeans shocked the hockey world with Tomas Tatar’s OT tally against Sweden.  Sweden was heavily favored to win.

In terms of points leaders heading into the Finals, out of the top ten, Canada grabs six of those spots, including the first four: Sidney Crosby with seven (surprise, surprise…), Brad Marchand (5), Jonathan Toews (4), and Patrice Bergeron (4).  Matt Duchene and John Tavares land themselves at numbers seven and eight respectively with four points apiece. Five and six belong to Johnny Gaudreau (NA) and Nicklas Backstrom (SWE), respectively, and nine belongs to Erik Karlsson (SWE).

But only one player from Team Europe cracks the top ten: Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers with a goal and three helpers.  Zuccarello finds himself leading a team in points with an unlikely friend as backstop – cross-town rival New York Islanders’ goaltender Jaroslav Halak.  In the last four games (including the semi-finals), playing 245 minutes, the “Halakness Monster” has Ha-locked it up (I swear, I’m done) with a .947 save percentage, 1.96 goals against average, and one shutout (again, I do not recall when that was).  Staring back at him 178-feet away will be Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender, Carey Price.  In three games and 180 minutes, Price maintained a save percentage of .948, a goals against average of 1.67, and one shutout.

Heading into Tuesday night, however, Team Europe will be without top forward, Marian Gaborik who suffered a broken foot on Sunday’s semi-final game against Sweden.  While this gives Mikkel Boedker a chance to hit the ice for the first time, the loss of Gaborik makes it that much more challenging for Europe to overcome all the odds.  But while Gaborik will be absent, what won’t be missing from Team Europe is the underdog mentality.  Europe has nothing to lose.  Everyone expects Canada to win.  So while the odds are unlikely for Europe to pull even one upset win, winning two seems too far-fetched.  This might actually help them.

But then again, in my previous article outlining Team Europe, I all but wrote them off as non-contenders.  I mentioned the possibility of Jaro Halak losing out on the starting goaltending position.  I explained that the only way Europe advances to the semi-finals was through an upset or two.  Well, I was right about the last part, but I surely didn’t picture Europe in the Finals.  And yet, here they are, ready to face off against Canada.

I guess Coach Krueger gave the team his best motivational speeches yet.  Hopefully, for the Euro’s sakes, he’s got at least two more on tap…

Without further ado, here are my keys to World Cup Victory for each squad:


Play your game.  Keep that speed going the entire 60 minutes.  Rolling four superstar forward lines and three top-notch defensive pairings, it could be only a matter of time before Team Europe is completely worn down.  Shoot early and often – Canada is known to outshoot opponents by large margins.  This best-of-three series should not see anything less.  A barrage of shots coupled with the speed game will force Europe to commit penalties, allowing Canada to capitalize on easier opportunities.  Lastly, don’t underestimate Europe.  Any team that makes it to the finals in any tournament likely deserves to be there.  Europe got hot at the right time, and they might just be getting hotter, carrying tremendous momentum from Sunday’s OT win over Sweden.


Give it all you got.  Don’t let Canada set the pace early on.  Canada is a possession team; if Europe can possess the puck longer than usual, Canada will ultimately have less opportunity.  The dump-and-chase strategy may not work against Canada, so it’s important when approaching the blue line without a clear puck-support system going in to simply retreat and regroup.  Unlike Canada, the shoot early and often strategy might just end up giving Canada the puck.  On the same theme, the less faceoffs, the better.  Canada is stacked with top pivots.  If Halak can feed the puck to a defender safely rather than simply freeze it, Europe will avoid a few defensive zone faceoffs and maintain possession.  Just watch out for the heavy forecheck.

Canada will be playing host all three games if not logistically, but geographically.  For every “boo” against Europe, and for every cheer for Canada, there are two-fold cheers coming from around the world.  No disrespect to our friendly neighbors up north, but the world wants to see someone else win for a change.

If Europe is to win any games, it will be low-scoring.  Conservative defense is key, converging through the middle forcing Canada to the outside.  Canada loves the tic-tac-toe passes that thread the needle through the slot.  Blocking passing lanes down the middle, and letting Halak take the angle shots on his own will be helpful, so long as Halak plays the angles perfectly which, I admit, is a huge “if”.  Crosby already netted one of those behind-the-net shots, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more shots from sharp angles.


That being said, whether the Finals lasts two games or three, it should be some fun hockey to watch.  Game one will take place Tuesday night (8pm EST, ESPN), game two on Thursday (8pm EST, ESPN 2), and, if necessary, game three on Saturday night (7pm EST, ESPN 2).  Enjoy the last week of World Cup Hockey because who knows when the next one will be held!

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.

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