TORONTO – Nothing is official yet, and there are still a lot of “what ifs,” but it appears as though Team Europe will be advancing to the semifinal of the World Cup of Hockey. And no one can honestly say they saw that coming.
The underdog team made up of players from smaller European nations deemed not worthy of competing on their own all-but-cemented their place in the semis with a 3-2 overtime win over the Czech Republic on Monday. That came a day after their surprise win over the United States on Saturday.
There is still much to be decided, and the overtime win complicates things a little bit. But the two wins is almost certainly enough to get through. They still have a game against Canada to worry about, but already would hold the tiebreaker over the United States. In order for Team USA to sneak past Team Europe, they have to beat Canada on Tuesday and the Czechs on Thursday.
Regardless, the European team looks like it belongs. This has not been a fluke. On Saturday, though they were outplayed for stretches and outshot, they capitalized on their chances and held off Team USA. On Monday, they outplayed the Czechs from start to finish, outshooting them 41-30 and out chancing them. If not for the brilliant play of Petr Mrazek in the Czech goal – aside from a third-period goal on which he whiffed on a Mats Zuccarello wrister – it would have been a laugher.
The Czechs, though, didn’t go away and rebounded from the Mrazek flub to tie the game later in the third on a Martin Hanzal power-play goal. It stayed tied 2-2 until overtime when Leon Draisaitl got sent in on a breakaway by Zuccarello. Draisaitl beat Mrazek low on the blocker side to win the game and send the Europe bench into eruption.
Team Europe is the oldest in the tournament, and has five players that played in the 2004 World Cup, the most of any team. But instead of looking like a slow, disorganized team playing together for the first time, it has come together and ridden good goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, and timely scoring to race out to its unbeaten record.