Day: September 11, 2016

Team North America explodes early in win over Europe

By Canadian Press

Aaron Ekblad, Johnny Gaudreau and Dylan Larkin each scored twice as Team North America beat Team Europe 7-4 on Sunday in the second of three exhibition games for both sides leading into the World Cup of Hockey tournament.

Morgan Rielly also scored for North America (2-0). John Gibson made 29 saves.

Marian Gaborik had two goals for Europe (0-2). Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Frans Nielsen also scored.

Goalie Thomas Greiss allowed four goals on eight shots before being pulled 10 minutes into the first period. His replacement, former Montreal Canadiens netminder Jaroslav Halak, made 22 saves on 24 shots.

North America’s win comes three days after beating Europe 4-0 in Quebec City.

Down 5-1 after 20 minutes, Europe scored three straight goals to make a game of it. But the comeback was cut short when Gaudreau sealed it for North America with his second of the game at 11:29 of the third.

Frans Nielsen helping to build hockey in Denmark

By Tim Campbell

Hockey dreams are gaining momentum in smaller European countries, and Team Europe forward Frans Nielsen wore a broad smile on Friday knowing he has helped the trend, and the World Cup of Hockey 2016 is about to provide another big assist.

Nielsen, 32, was a pioneer of sorts in 2006 when he broke into the NHL with the New York Islanders after he was chosen in the third round (No. 87) of the 2002 NHL Draft, the first player from Denmark to be taken in the draft and appear in the League.

Ten years later, Nielsen said he sees the change in his home country, one of eight represented on Team Europe in this world best-on-best tournament.

“I think it’s not only me but when I was a young kid, the Danish players looked up to those who played in Sweden and those leagues,” Nielsen said Friday at Bell Centre, in preparation for Team Europe’s pre-tournament game against Team North America on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; ESPN3, SN, TVA Sports). “It’s kind of what I followed. Nobody really believed Denmark would get an NHL player.

“But now, not only me but the other guys who go home in the summer, those hockey camps with kids, we notice that what everybody dreams about now is playing in the NHL. So the mindset has changed a lot with young kids and that’s so great to see, and I think it helped that we’ve shown with hard work and dedication, it’s possible.

“Kids’ dreams have changed a lot since I was a kid.”

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger, whose team is comprised of players from Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Norway, Denmark, Italy, France and Slovenia, said Friday he sees a great benefit from this World Cup.

“It will help to grow the game in these countries, for sure,” Krueger said. “The visibility of this tournament through Team Europe in those countries will inspire more children, more youth in men’s and women’s hockey to take part. It’s one of the byproducts of the World Cup that maybe isn’t in a focal point in the North American media, but I can feel it in Europe.

“There are a lot of byproducts here that aren’t obvious for you but they are great, long-term, for the game. I’m sure a few [Anze] Kopitars will be born out of this tournament, as a result of it.”

Nielsen, one of three Danes on Team Europe, along with forwards Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker, said another sign of the trend was the 2016 NHL Draft, in which three players from Denmark were selected (forward Mathias From, Chicago Blackhawks, No. 143; forward Nikolaj Christensen, St. Louis Blues, No. 209; and forward Joachim Blichfeld, San Jose Sharks, No. 210). No draft had ever had more than one.

“They (NHL teams) are not afraid of taking a guy from a smaller country and that’s awesome,” he said.

Denmark, a country of 5.5 million people, has approximately 4,200 registered hockey players. Nielsen said they’ll be the spark for growing interest in the World Cup, which begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.

“We have all early games [in the tournament] so that will help bring more viewers,” Nielsen said. “But for sure there will be a focus. This is big. It is one of the biggest tournaments when it comes to international hockey.

“We’re all excited about representing our countries, everybody’s proud of playing for their countries and when you’re from a small country like Denmark and like Kopitar from Slovenia, I think there’s more pressure in that. You have to go home and help them out because we don’t have too many players to pick from. We have to be there if we can be there. This isn’t like Sweden or Canada. We don’t have that luxury. You just have to be there to support it.”

Nielsen has had a busy summer. Not only has he been preparing for the World Cup, he has a new six-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings, reportedly worth $31.5 million with an average annual value of $5.3 million, after after 10 seasons in the Islanders organization.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “I mean, it’s Detroit. It’s tough not to be excited about that, the hockey culture, everything that’s gone on there over the years, their traditions. That’s going to be an incredible experience.

“I knew right away when they called on July 1 that it was going to be a tough place to turn down.”

On top of that, Nielsen and his wife and proud parents of a new son, Lou, born Aug. 23.

“I had a lot of stuff going on with the tournament and you want to be ready and make a good first impression,” he said. “We just had a little baby boy who’s now two weeks old and with the move and everything… this is all good stuff.”

As is Team Europe’s growing comfort level. The team was late assembling this week because of the Olympic qualifying tournament and lost its first pre-tournament game 4-0 to Team North America on Thursday in Quebec City.

“Everyone is getting along,” Nielsen said. “We’re coming together. There are no issues with the guys. It’s been fun. For me personally, I played against Kopitar a lot, even when we were in Sweden when we were younger. Now we get to play together. I’ve always looked up to [Marian] Hossa and Zdeno Chara, guys like that, when I was younger and now it’s so awesome now to get to know them as a person, too. I’ve always been against them and this has been a lot of fun so far.

“Now we just have to get it figured out on the ice. I think we’re going to improve a lot. No team in this competition has more international experience. We have a lot of games playing World Championships and we know that can help us.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has France on right path

By Tim Campbell

Team Europe forward proud to represent his country at World Cup

Forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was among the delayed arrivals for Team Europe’s training camp for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, competing for France in a 2018 PyeongChang Olympics qualifier in Oslo, Norway.

He arrived in Quebec City for the first phase of camp not with a “victory hangover,” as Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger referred to it this week when talking about qualifiers Germany, Norway and Slovenia, but with disappointment.

Until Bellemare realized that France had done its best and is moving in the right direction in international play. It lost 2-1 last Sunday to Norway in the Olympic qualifying final of Group F.

“It’s easier to talk now about it than a couple of days ago,” Bellemare said Saturday after Team Europe’s practice at Bell Centre. “Since I’ve been on the national team, we’ve never been able to qualify. Not that close any time. We always have one bad game. This year we were playing really solid and I’m really proud the way our national team is doing, the road we’re taking now.

“We’ve played well. We lost the last game against a team that was better than us. The positive thing in that is that we made them worry for 58 minutes and they [got] a goal at the last minute of the game. That was good for France, to show all our fans and those behind us.”

Bellemare said he comes to the World Cup full of pride in his country, an emotion that Krueger has fostered and encouraged among the players from eight different nations that make up Team Europe.

“I never dreamed of the NHL when I was a kid because it wasn’t on TV,” Bellemare said. “When I grew up, as a French hockey player, you were always told you would never make the NHL. And the Olympics, that’s a dream, too. If I had known there was a World Cup, I would have dreamed of that, too.

“This is huge. There has been a lot of talk that we are not a team that represents one country but at the end of the day, any player in this locker room is having it tougher, somehow, in hockey because we don’t come from countries that are hockey countries. The sport we are playing in our own countries is not maybe the sport that generates the most revenue, the most TV time, the best coaches and somehow we all had to go through different preparation mentally to come into the NHL and I think that’s what makes our team strong.

“We’ve been through a tough past and it’s fun to do this. I’m super proud, super happy to be here.”

You can see that every time the 31-year-old from Le Blanc-Mesnil, France, opens his mouth. When he does, you see the Tricolore, the blue, white and red of his mouthguard.

“I have it from the national team a few years ago and at first, I wasn’t sure I should wear it but then, why not?” Bellemare said. “But now that I’m here, I was thinking I shouldn’t because maybe guys will think I’m cocky but really, I’m just happy to represent my country.”

Bellemare skated Saturday on a line with Thomas Vanek and Jannik Hansen and said he sees himself as part of Team Europe’s support group at the World Cup, which begins Sept. 17 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Team Europe plays Team USA in its tournament opener (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).

“I’m not the most talented guy on the team but I’m working [hard] every time I can and I have no problem blocking shots and killing penalties,” he said. “This is fun to be able to be part of this amazing event.

“It’s amazing because if you look at all the names in this locker room, it’s only big names and then me. I’ve been trying to help the team every time and I’m not the face of the franchise except maybe when I’m with the national team, and there I have to help the team. So to be here, even just to take the role of killing penalties and things like that, less-glory roles, it’s a huge, huge reward and I’m really proud to be able to represent the country in this kind of manner.”

Bellemare, who spent eight seasons in Sweden’s top professional league, didn’t arrive in the NHL until he was 29.

He has played two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and said there is one over-riding take.

“Let’s face it, when you play playoff hockey, you don’t want to play any other hockey after that,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve seen it in Europe but it’s another thing to be on the ice and feel the pressure and the adrenaline. You do get tired but then you hear your name to go on the ice and you do [it] again without even thinking your legs are tired. What an unbelievable feeling.”

Bellemare said at this stage of his career, he revels in every moment.

“I came late to the NHL,” he said. “I’m not 18 or 20. I don’t focus on the same things, because I’m a little older. I know what I need to do to help the team and I can appreciate it more. You come at 30 years old and you appreciate every second of it.

“It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of learning and the second year was better than my first because we made the playoffs. And now this year, what a start. You’re playing with the best players in the world, as simple as that.”