TORONTO – Just three days into the World Cup of Hockey, Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger has already deemed his club’s performance “historic.” It remains to be seen what history will say about the team, but after two games and two wins, the underdog team has proven all the doubters wrong.
Team Europe is in prime position to grab a surprise berth in the semifinals following a 3-2 overtime win over the Czech Republic on Monday. That win came on the heels of Saturday’s surprising 3-0 win over the United States.
They haven’t officially clinched anything yet, and the overtime win could complicate things when it comes to tiebreakers, but it seems very likely Europe will advance, regardless of what it does in its final round-robin game against Canada on Wednesday.
It’s a scenario only the players in the dressing room thought possible.
“It’s quite an historic three days for this group,” Krueger said. “Coming in as 33-1 longshots, according to Vegas bookies, it’s a lot of fun. The guys never saw that as a hurdle, they all thought we had a shot.”
The coach and the players all talked about how they have come together and bought in. This is a team made up of players from eight different European countries, each one of those countries deemed too insignificant to take part in the tournament on its own. It didn’t happen overnight, but the players are on the same page.
“From the beginning everybody was unsure what was gonna happen,” left winger Marian Hossa said. “We had our first breakfast and guys walked in, everybody was unsure where to sit, everybody kinda sat on their own. We did some team building so we kind of know each other more, all those little things help us become one team.”
“There’s complete buy-in from this group – I’ve never experienced it in 25 years of coaching. And we’re not done,” Krueger said.
Proof of the team’s commitment can be seen in what nearly half the team was doing just before the tournament started. Twelve different players on Team Europe spent the first week of September playing in the 2018 Olympic qualification tournament – for an Olympics NHL players are far from guaranteed to play in, mind you. After wrapping up that event, World Cup training camp began.
“Anze Kopitar has played 10 games in three weeks. That’s character,” Krueger said.
It also might help explain why Team Europe seems to have a spring in its step. While the other seven teams in the tournament are just starting to get up to game speed, Team Europe is already there. Though, they have also been careful to build in some extra rest throughout the tournament.
“We always said it could be an advantage when it got to this level. So many of our players are battle ready,” Krueger said.
Thanks to their regulation win over the U.S. on Saturday, in order for Team Europe to not advance to the semifinals now, Team USA must beat Canada and the Czech Republic in regulation time. Even then, Team Europe would get another shot at advancing by getting a point against Canada.
“We’re having fun. There’s a lot of good guys, a lot of experienced guys,” left winger Mats Zuccarello said. “Every time we go on the ice we expect to win. Doesn’t matter if we’re here, or with Norway or France… It’s a good feeling. We have another game and hopefully a few more.”