Who's gonna win (and a small rant about national identity)
Like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expected Team Europe, especially after they (perhaps intentionally) threw two pre-tournament exhibition games. Their success at making it this far in the World Cup spawned a lot of questions. Quite a few of these questions seemed to miss the point. Like, for example these:
"Could they develop an identity as a team in the short time before the tournament, and could they develop the requisite chemistry to execute that game-plan?"
...Are kind of dumb. Why? Because if you look at your average cup-winning NHL team, it's not like the team has national ties to help foster any kind of chemistry. In fact, teams seem to do just fine with an abstract logo, like a "Leaf" or a "Penguin" or (ha ha) a "Desert Knight" on their jersey; and I can't help but notice that the best new prospect for Canada's Team (not Team Canada) happens to be from Arizona.
Let's look, for example, at a team with an enormous identity: Team USA. They have the weight of history (or at least back to 1996) behind it, they have a unified national hockey program that feeds it. But the end result was that the mix of mediocre players and horrific, outmoded coaching spit out a crappy product on the ice. Team USA went on a team-building trip to Quantico. Team Europe showed Team USA exactly how little a coherent national identity mattered when they shut them out 3-0.
So the question shouldn't really be, can a team do well BECAUSE they have developed an identity. The true question is, how can a coach bring together a diverse group of individuals and utilize their skills enough to win the fucking tournament? Sure, it's the "world cup," but every team is Team Hodgepodge in the NHL.
The last time Team Europe met Team Sweden was in the exhibition, when they spanked Sweden with an embarrassing 6-2 victory. Europe has some heavy hitters, and Sweden lacks offense. Sweden didn't need to do more than push Team North America to overtime the last time it was on the ice, but tonight it has to do a lot better. The players talked about what went right/wrong.
What is going right for Team Europe? They concentrate on exploiting defensive mistakes and sitting hard on possession, a stats-lover's dream. Anze Kopitar described it thus: "In the last three games, our game have come together the way we wanted it to. We realized in a hurry that run-and-gun was not one of them. There isn’t a lot of flash in our game. It’s borderline boring."
How can the Tre Kronor win? In the words of Carl Hagelin, "Sometimes we're going to have to chip and go because I think that's how you can create chances on their 'D'. They have some bigger guys who are really good if they keep you in front of them, but once they have to start turning then you can create some offense and create some turnovers."
Will Team Europe win their way to meet Canada, so that we can have the awesome headline of Canada vs. The World? Or will it be a bright clash of primary colors on the ice? WE'LL JUST HAVE TO SEE.
Game Time: 1 PM ET
TV: ESPN2, CBC, TVAS
Streaming: GameCentre Live, CBC.ca, WatchESPN
Potential Team Sweden lines:
D Sedin - H Sedin - Eriksson
Forsberg - Backstrom - Hornqvist
Hagelin - Kruger - Silfverberg
Landeskog - Berglund - Soderberg
Ekholm - Karlsson
Hedman - Stralman
OEL - Hjalmarsson
Potential Team Europe lines:
Tatar - Kopitar - Hossa
Gaborik - Nielsen - Zuccarello
Rieder - Draisaitl - Niederreiter
Vanek - Bellemare - Hansen
Sekera - Chara
Josi - Seidenberg
Streit - Ehrhoff