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The European Union: Can Team Europe Defy the Odds in Group A?

Photo credit: Don Emmert/Getty Images

Photo credit: Don Emmert/Getty Images

With camps set to open on Monday, next up on the list is Team Europe, the third Group A team in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.  Team Europe is made up of players from Slovakia (6), Germany (5), Denmark (4), Switzerland (4), Austria (1), France (1), Norway (1), and Slovenia (1).  The team is inherently more unique than the others in the tournament.

But it gets even more interesting…and stereotypical.  Team Europe will be represented behind the bench by Ralph Krueger.  Krueger is a Canadian-born German who has coached hockey in the past, but is now involved in what the Europeans call “association football” (we call this “soccer”, hockey fans.  You know, that game that’s somewhat similar to hockey but played on the grass and kicking to score a goal is the objective, not illegal).  That’s right – Krueger is currently the chairman of the Southampton F.C. of the English Premier League.  You can’t get more European than that!

All jokes aside, Krueger has extensive experience behind the bench, coaching the Swiss National Team from 1997 through the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  This helped him land an associate coaching position with the Edmonton Oilers where he was promoted to head coach for the shortened 2013 season before being let go.  Team Canada brought him in as a special advisor to the coaching staff for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.  He will be joined by current Winnipeg Jets’ head coach, Paul Maurice, and former St. Louis Blues assistant coach, Brad Shaw, as assistants.  Whereas Krueger has somewhat limited knowledge of today’s NHL landscape (a lot changes in three seasons), Maurice and Shaw are there to fill that void.  Krueger is s a fantastic speaker and motivator on top of knowing the game of hockey.  Success starts from the top down.  Team Europe is in good hands.

Much credit is due to Team Europe’s General Manager Miroslav Satan, and the scouting team assembled to piece together the best available European players not from Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, or Sweden.  Former NHL players Petr Bondra, Sean Burke, Lorne Henning, and Vaclav Nedomansky were brought in as scouts, as well as current Carolina Hurricanes’ assistant GM, Ricky Olczyk.  Between the five of them, there’s plenty of NHL and international experience to make an all-star European roster.

Size is not something Team Europe boasts.  Only three players are 6’3” or above.  One of them just so happens to be the tallest NHL player in history – Zdeno Chara –at a massive 6’9”.  On the flip-side, Mats Zuccarello, at 5’7” is the lone player to represent Norway on Team Europe, just as he was the lone NHL player to represent Team Norway in Sochi two and a half years ago.  Zuccarello is coming off a career year with the New York Rangers as he led the team in points with 61.  His creativity and knack for playmaking will prove deadly against opponents.

Los Angeles Kings’ star center, and newly-named captain, Anze Kopitar will no doubt play a significant role for Team Europe.  He has size, tremendous offensive ability, and is a Selke Award winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward.  His credentials will likely earn him the first pivot slot on the squad.

Former Islanders’ center, Frans Neilsen will also play an important role for Team Europe.  He produces both on the powerplay and at even-strength, and he is an outstanding penalty killer.  He will be joined by fellow Detroit Red Wings Tomas Tatar and Thomas Vanek.

Blackhawks’ forward Marian Hossa seems to have been unaffected by age.  His hard, accurate snipes will be relied upon heavily by Team Europe.

Other potential offensive weapons include Mikkel Boedker, whose speed game will be advantageous to the squad, and Leon Draisaitl, a 20-year old with vision and hockey sense beyond his years.

On the backend, Team’s Europe’s defensive regimen includes some terrific puck-movers.  Most notably, Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators will be instrumental in all situations.  Josi is coming off a career season with the Preds, notching 61 points, 24 of which belong to the man-advantage, and two short-handed.

Flyers’ defenseman Mark Streit may have declined with age, but his veteran experience cannot be quantified.  The same goes for Christian Ehrhoff and Dennis Seidenberg who have yet to ink contracts as the summer comes to a close.  Perhaps their performances in the World Cup will entice some younger NHL squads to take a chance on them.

If Jaroslav Halak thought his starting job with the New York Islanders was locked up, Thomas Greiss proved him wrong last season.  If Halak thought he’d be the sure number one for Team Europe, well I’m afraid I got some more bad news.  Greiss will be competing against Halak along with Frederik Andersen for the chance to represent Team Europe at the 2016 WCH.

Early Friday morning, while representing his home country of Denmark, Andersen left an Olympic-qualifying matchup after a teammate collided with him.  It is yet to be determined the gravity of the injury. According to the Danish Hockey Federation’s official Facebook page (httpss://, Andersen was evaluated with an MRI revealing “small lesions in [his] shoulder” and could be sidelined a week or two.  He is being flown to Toronto to be further assessed by Maple Leafs’ doctors.

Assuming the injury is just minor, and he will be ready for World Cup action, his presence could create even more competition for the starting job.  Andersen and his former counterpart, John Gibson, were awarded the William Jennings Trophy last season for allowing the fewest goals against.  Then again, Andersen is the youngest of the three goaltenders, and his inexperience might hinder him from landing the starting job.  All in all, the trio is a toss-up, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andersen come out as the number one.  His youth will be a clear factor as the last line of defense behind veteran blue-liners.

If Andersen is unable to compete in the WCH, Team Europe will be scrambling to find a third goalie as it is slim pickings finding an eligible net minder. But Philipp Grubauer may be a solid option. The 24-year old German tendy played back-up to Braden Holtby on the Caps this season. He went 16-8-9 with a save percentage of .918 and a 2.32 goals against average. Being named to the Team Europe roster will give him a perfect opportunity to showcase himself as a solid goalie. At 6’1”, he plays bigger than he is with a strong glove-hand and good positioning.  When opportunity knocks, answer the door.

Team Europe is in Group A with Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, and Team USA.  So, the odds of Team Europe making it out of the preliminary round-robin games are not in Europe’s favor.  Coach Krueger is going to have to prepare some of his best motivational speeches for his players.  Additionally, Team Europe must execute an absolute perfect speed-game, beating opponents to loose pucks just to give them a better shot at advancing.  While Satan and the rest of the staff put together a team of the best available players, I just don’t believe they are strong enough to prevail over even tougher competition.  The speed game would be very effective on an international regulation-sized rink, but the tournament is being held on NHL ice, not giving faster players the time and space they desire for international play.  Then again, an upset or two could punch Team Europe’s ticket to the tournament.


Team Europe listed by jersey number:


# Pos. Name                       Team

1 G GREISS, Thomas; New York Islanders

2 D SEKERA, Andrej; Edmonton Oilers

5 D SBISA, Luca; Vancouver Canucks

7 D STREIT, Mark; Philadelphia Flyers

8 F RIEDER, Tobias; Arizona Coyotes

10 D EHRHOFF, Christian; Unrestricted free agent

11 F KOPITAR, Anze; Los Angeles Kings

12 F GABORIK, Marian; Los Angeles Kings

21 F TATAR, Tomas; Detroit Red Wings

22 F NIEDERREITER, Nino; Minnesota Wild

26 F VANEK, Thomas; Detroit Red Wings

29 F DRAISAITL, Leon; Edmonton Oilers

31 G ANDERSEN, Frederik; Toronto Maple Leafs

33 D CHARA, Zdeno; Boston Bruins

36 F HANSEN, Jannik; Vancouver Canucks

41 G HALAK, Jaroslav; New York Islanders

44 D SEIDENBERG, Dennis; Unrestricted free agent

51 F NIELSEN, Frans; Detroit Red Wings

59 D JOSI, Roman; Nashville Predators

63 F ZUCCARELLO, Mats; New York Rangers

78 F BELLEMARE, Pierre-Edouard; Philadelphia Flyers

81 F HOSSA, Marian; Chicago Blackhawks

89 F BOEDKER, Mikkel; San Jose Sharks

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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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