When the revival of the World Cup of Hockey was first announced, it was expected that Canada would be the team to beat, and that’s precisely what has transpired through the preliminary and semi-final rounds, as the team went undefeated on its way to the start of the best-of-three final.
Team Europe, on the other hand, was criticized from the moment their inclusion in the tournament was mentioned, and the team that was selected from a sample of small countries in Europe didn’t do much to quell fears of the team being a weak entrant into a best-on-best tournament.
After getting through the group stage with their only loss coming at the hands of the Canadians, and getting by what was thought to be the second-best team in Sweden with an overtime goal in the semi-final, there was little to mock about Europe ahead of the first game of the final.
From the opening faceoff, Europe showed the determination that got them a chance at the new World Cup trophy, getting an extended stint on the offensive zone that had the Canadian defenders chasing the puck. That forced Brad Marchand to collapse to the net in an attempt to check the attacking forwards, and he was able to get in the way of a puck that was headed for the net, but also got called for cross-checking as he took his man down on the same play.
The Europeans had a chance to capitalize on the early pressure with their man advantage, but the Canadians escaped unscathed. Marchand got out of the penalty box and immediately went on the attack with Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron broke off his breakaway attempt to find Marchand with an accurate pass across the front of the crease, and he knocked Canada’s first shot of the game past the shoulder of Jaroslav Halak.
Ref cam of Bergeron to Marchand. So cool. pic.twitter.com/mUFAhKPciy— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) September 28, 2016
The Canadians held the momentum for a shift after the goal, but Europe got back on their game and once again mounted the pressure in Canada’s end. Despite the number on the scoreboard, Europe was the better team through the first half of the period, with shots 11-5 in their favour at the 12-minute mark.
One of their attempted rushes up the ice didn’t go as planned when Zdeno Chara was stripped of the puck at his blue line by Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf continued on toward the net as Team Europe scrambled back into defensive position. The shuffle didn’t occur fast enough, as Steven Stamkos raced behind the coverage, taking Getzlaf’s pass in stride and extending the lead to two.
Stamkos from Getzlaf [and Chara] pic.twitter.com/l7Fo4286iB— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 28, 2016
That goal seemed to deflate the Europeans a bit, and Canada took over the possession for the remainder of the frame. The lead seemed to have the opposite effect on Team Canada, who looked overconfident with the lead and tried to make finesse plays where a more reasonable option was available. As a result, the players spent the rest of the period passing the puck among themselves, but without getting any further looks that could be classified as dangerous scoring chances.
Canada controlled the play for the first few minutes of the second, but Europe got the defence running around with their quick passing and hard forechecking. They peppered Carey Price with shots for several minutes before he finally gave up a rebound. Tomas Tatar, who scored in overtime in the semi-final to get his team to the best-of-three series, pounced on the rebound and was able to get Europe the reward it deserved for its efforts.
Team Canada recovered slightly after Europe gained the confidence of scoring the goal, and gradually took the shots lead in the game. When Europe did get their time in the offensive zone, however, the defencemen struggled to transition that defence into offence, repeatedly placing their passes on the sticks of European forwards.
Even on a late-period power play, Canada failed to get anything significant toward Halak, instead giving up a breakaway to defenceman Andrej Sekera for the best scoring chance. Price coolly shut down the rush and played the puck to the corner. Canada took a 2-1 lead into the intermission, but Europe had to be confident with how they had responded after the early deficit.
The sloppy play from the Canadian defenders carried over to the third, and for the first time in the tournament, Canada was playing on its heels and needing Price to bail them out.
But, once again, all it took was one chance for Canada to escape the constant barrage. The top line of Sidney Crosby flanked by Bergeron and Marchand got a rare shift going in the offensive zone, and Crosby put the puck on Bergeron’s stick right in front of the net to give the team a bit of breathing room.
Canada’s defence settled down with the game seemingly in hand, cutting down significantly on the turnovers that plagued them for the middle portion of the game, and were able to play a more effective shutdown style for the final 10 minutes.
Canada escaped with a 3-1 win, and can claim the 2016 World Cup of Hockey with a win on Thursday.
- Team Canada seemed completely perplexed that the Europeans didn’t quit when the score got to 2-0, and never got back up to speed when their opponents maintained a high level of play. They were lucky to get the two-goal lead in the first place after being outplayed in the opening period, and can’t be feeling particularly good about how they played in the game.
- On the opposite side, Europe is likely feeling that this game was there for the taking, and could have gone the other way with a few bounces in their favour. They went from hoping they could win to knowing they have a realistic shot at this title, and it will be interesting to see how that translates to their play in Game Two.
Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey best-of-three final goes on Thursday night at 8:00 PM EDT. Team Europe will be hoping to get a more deserved result and take the series the distance: into a deciding game at primetime on Saturday night.