For a team whose coach seems so focused on the military, you would have though Team USA might have been able to defend a little better. But look on the bright side. Team Europe’s 3-0 win over the United States in the first game of the World Cup of Hockey has already made the tournament interesting and compelling.
Was this a one-off for the U.S.? Might not matter at this point. The Americans have already painted themselves into a corner when it comes to qualifying for the semifinal. They’d better regroup or else they’ll all be heading back to the drudgery of their NHL training camps in quick order. The Americans built a team to beat Canada in this tournament and somewhere along the line missed the fact that there are other teams here, too.
Of even more pressing concern for the U.S. is that it can’t seem to score any goals in international hockey. The shutout Saturday afternoon means Team USA has failed to score a goal in its past three games of best-on-best hockey. You’ll remember they lost 1-0 to Canada in the semifinal at the Sochi Olympics before a 5-0 embarrassment at the hands of Finland in the bronze-medal game. In fact, Team USA has not scored a goal in 197 minutes and 59 seconds of best-on-best hockey. And who had their last goal? Well, Phil Kessel in a 5-2 win over the Czech Republic in the Olympic quarterfinal.
As for Team Europe, it was interesting to see how they could hang with the big boys of this tournament. Prior to the World Cup, Team Europe coach Ralph Kruger talked about destiny, how anything could happen and emphasized pride for a team without a country. They made the Americans look like a bunch of beer league players, capitalizing on mistake after mistake.
It wasn’t that the Europeans dominated the game. In fact there were large swaths of time where the U.S. was the better team. But when Team Europe pounced, it did so with authority. The opening goal of the tournament by Marian Gaborik was scored off a 2-on-1 that materialized after a Ryan McDonagh turnover. Team Europe went ahead 2-0 on a goal that was almost mind-boggling, with Leon Draisaitl finishing off a 2-on-1 after a turnover at the offensive zone blueline by Patrick Kane.
If you were looking for the tournament to get intriguing, it certainly didn’t take long. And Europe has served notice that it will not go quietly into the night. Perhaps we should have realized that when it shellacked Team Sweden by a 6-2 margin in their final pre-tournament tune-up game. Most of the players on this team go into tournaments and regularly serve as cannon fodder for the world’s hockey powers.
But not in Game 1.