Day: September 17, 2016

Crosby, Marchand combine for 6 points in Team Canada win

By Canadian Press

Sidney Crosby couldn’t be stopped in Team Canada’s World Cup of Hockey opener.

The Canadian captain had a hand in four goals against the Czech Republic, finishing with one marker himself and two assists in a 6-0 win on Saturday evening.

It was the same kind of dominant performance Crosby offered at the end of the last NHL season, in which the now-29-year-old won the Conn Smythe Trophy in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins to a second Stanley Cup.

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews and Alex Pietrangelo also scored for the Canadians, while Carey Price pitched a 27-save shutout.

Michal Neuvirth made 44 saves in defeat, with Canada outshooting the Czechs 50-27.

Heavy favourites heading into the tournament, Canada took care of its first preliminary-round opponent as required. Division rivals from the United States couldn’t say the same earlier in the day, dropping a 3-0 afternoon affair to Team Europe.

The Canadians next game comes against the Americans on Tuesday night.

If concluding as a resounding win, the first few minutes of Saturday’s game were a little messy.

Czech winger Ondrej Palat came up with a quality chance just 41 seconds into the game and after Crosby was denied on a breakaway Canada took a pair of minor penalties. Canada was being outshot 6-1 after the first six-plus minutes.

Whatever early tension there was quickly evaporated. Canada gained steam in a hurry and after a few flurries at the offensive end broke through on the first goal of the game from Crosby. Grabbing hold of a rebound as he swung behind the Czech goal, Crosby flung a shot off the back of Neuvirth and into the goal.

Looking quick, while relentlessly pursuing the puck, Canada upped the lead to 2-0 with less than three minutes left in the first. After Bergeron won an offensive-zone faceoff, Crosby sent a backhand pass to Burns at the point. The NHL’s leading goal-scorer from the back-end last season firing a blast that Marchand tipped past Neuvirth.

It was the second of three points for Marchand.

The Canadians kept coming even in the waning moments of the first. Crosby forced a Czech turnover in the offensive zone with just seconds to go, the puck scooped up by Marchand, who dished cross-ice to Bergeron. The 31-year-old found the back of the net for the 3-0 lead with less than a second remaining in the frame.

Bergeron and Marchand have been a seamless fit alongside Crosby since the opening day of training camp. Head coach Mike Babcock said Crosby was best when paired with speedy, intelligent players who pursue the puck. Crosby and Bergeron have been an effective tandem numerous times for Canada.

Screening the goaltender on the play was Crosby.

Crosby kept it coming in the second. Veering to his right across the slot, Crosby whipped a wicked backhand pass to his left, with Thornton there to tap it in on the doorstep. It was the first goal the 37-year-old had scored for Canada since the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Toews and Pietrangelo both found the mark on separate power plays, becoming the fifth and sixth Canadian goal scorers.

Price was tested only occasionally by the Czechs, appearing much like the highly-reputed goaltender he was before injury last season. The 29-year-old was square to pucks and limited rebounds, his shutout preserved late in the second period when Roman Cervenka rung a shot off the crossbar.

If there was one primary fault for Team Canada, even in victory, it was discipline. The Canadians took six minor penalties after seven infractions in their final exhibition tilt against Russia earlier in the week.

Jaroslav Halak stops 35 as Team Europe blanks Team USA

By Canadian Press

Marian Gaborik, Leon Draisaitl and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored, Jaroslav Halak made 35 saves and Team Europe upset the United States 3-0 on Saturday in a stunning opening game at the World Cup of Hockey.

Playing his first game since March 8 because of a groin injury, Halak was up to the task, especially in the third period.

Jonathan Quick allowed three goals on 17 shots but fell victim to blunders in front of him. A mistake by defenceman Ryan McDonagh allowed Europe to get a 2-on-1 rush for Gaborik’s goal, and a turnover by Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane set up a 2-on-0 for Draisaitl’s.

The U.S. outshot Europe 35-17, went 0 for 4 on the power play and had a goal disallowed.

 Losing in regulation puts the Americans in a deep hole with only two games left in the preliminary round. They face favoured Canada on Tuesday night.

The U.S. went into the first World Cup game in 12 years as the favourite against a European team made up of players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark, France and Slovenia. European coach Ralph Krueger declared earlier in the day: “We’re going to be a competitive team here today, and we’re ready to look America in the eyes.”

That was clear from the drop of the puck.

It didn’t help that the U.S. kept giving Europe golden opportunities. McDonagh’s ill-advised pinch freed up Frans Nielsen and Gaborik for a 2-on-1, and Quick had little chance of stopping it at 4:19 of the first period.

After playing only 4:45 in the first, Kane tried to skate through two European players and had the gaffe of the game. Draisaitl picked it off, executed a perfect give-and-go with Nino Niederreiter that made it 2-0 Europe 4:02 into the second.

At 14:10 of the second it looked like the U.S. was on the board with a power-play goal off the helmet of Derek Stepan. But after video review, referee Kelly Sutherland announced that van Riemsdyk intentionally directed the puck in with his chest.

Europe dealt the final blow at 18:32 of the second when Bellemare deflected Jannik Hansen’s shot past Quick.

Notes: U.S. coach John Tortorella scratched defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, forward Kyle Palmieri and goaltender Cory Schneider. Ben Bishop served as Quick’s backup. … Forward Mikkel Boedker and defenceman Luca Sbisa were scratched for Europe.

Coach Krueger’s strange journey to Team Europe in the hockey World Cup

By Eric Duhatschek – The Globe and Mail

The chairman of Southampton Football Club, just four games into the English Premier League season, is explaining how he came to make the improbable journey to coach Team Europe in hockey’s World Cup. This is Ralph Krueger, last seen in the NHL as the pre-Connor McDavid coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

Krueger’s dismissal after a single, lockout-shortened season in favour of Dallas Eakins was a head-scratcher back in June of 2013.

But in the long history of the NHL’s hired-to-be-fired set, arguably no one landed on his feet more emphatically than Krueger, a 57-year-old native of Steinbach, Man., who played his junior hockey in Canada and had an extensive sports résumé – just not in soccer.

It happened this way: Southampton, a team that finished a solid sixth in last season’s standings, is owned by Katharina Liebherr, a Swiss businesswoman who inherited the club from her father six years ago. Though Krueger was a long-time coach of the Swiss men’s national hockey team, the connection to the Liebherr family came because of his work outside of sport. Since 2011, Krueger has been a member of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on new models of leadership, which is how he came to get an interview for the Southampton job.

“I never had a plan to get into football at all. What I was excited about was the leadership challenge in and around the Southampton Football Club,” said Krueger, who said his first conversation with Liebherr in 2013 lasted three hours, and philosophically, they just clicked.

Soon after, Liebherr offered him the job, but Krueger was then acting as a special adviser to Canadian Olympic coach Mike Babcock going into the Sochi Games, and didn’t want to leave the team in the lurch. So he asked if she would delay the appointment so he could complete his Olympic commitment.

“She gave me that space, just as she’s giving me the space now for the World Cup,” Krueger explained. “I told her a year ago, ‘I’ve been asked to coach the European team.’ She said, ‘Is it going to make you a better leader?’ I said ‘Yes’ and so she said ‘Go.’ That’s the kind of woman she is.”

Uniting Team Europe will be among Krueger’s greatest challenges. Unlike the under-24 North American team, with players who can get by on youthful enthusiasm, Krueger is working with skaters from eight countries.

Not many championships have been won, outside of golf’s Solheim and Ryder Cups, under the rallying cry “Let’s win one for our continent.”

Anze Kopitar may bleed for Slovenia and Mark Streit will sweat for Switzerland, but getting them to play with the sort of energy and zeal usually associated with best-on-best international competition will test Krueger’s motivational skills. But it is something at which he has proved quite adept.

In his short stint with Edmonton, the prize free agent of the summer of 2012 was Justin Schultz, a graduating collegian who had the right to play anywhere in the NHL. Dozens of teams pursued him. When Schultz unexpectedly picked Edmonton – considered a coup at the time – he cited Krueger’s vision as one of his primary reasons for signing with the Oilers.

Presumably, Krueger will use the same persuasive voice to get his collection of European all-stars on the same page.

“There was some cynicism about Team Europe at the start, but I can tell you, all the guys have embraced it,” Krueger said. “All the players are going to have their country’s flag on their arms, so when Anze Kopitar walks into Team Europe, he still represents Slovenia in everything he does.

“Every time these guys played Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czechs, Canada or the U.S. in their whole careers, they’ve always been the outsider, an underdog. Now, through the synergies of all these countries, playing together, they have a chance to look the big boys in the eye – and I think they will embrace that.

“From a system standpoint, in the end, we need to get them to play together on the ice – that’s the only thing that really matters. We can do all the off-ice stuff we want; if we don’t connect on the ice, it really won’t matter.”

However the World Cup experience turns out, Krueger will be back at his day job by early October, with the British soccer season in full swing. At Southampton, Krueger introduced an NHL-style hierarchy to the organization, doubling the size of the scouting staff and putting a general manager and a coach in charge of personnel decisions.

Upon arriving in Southampton, one of Krueger’s primary objectives was to build up the business off the field, so the team had the revenues to better develop players. Gareth Bale and others have come through the Southampton youth academy, and that is where they’ve devoted some of the new cash that Krueger’s initiatives have generated.

Will Team North America save the World Cup of Hockey?

By James Mertle – The Globe and Mail

No one at the NHL’s head office seems to recall precisely where the idea came from or who first brought it up. But Bill Daly believes that its origins are more than a decade old.

Back then, the NHL was still debating what to do about Olympic participation, with the Games in Turin, Italy, and interrupting their season yet again. One concept that was kicked around briefly was sending only 23-and-under players – the way men’s soccer teams do for the Olympics – instead of shutting down the entire league.

That never ended up happening. But the idea lay dormant at the NHL front office until the summer of 2014, when commissioner Gary Bettman, his right-hand man, Daly, and NHL Players’ Association head Don Fehr began discussing the format for a revamped World Cup of Hockey.

They knew that six countries would be there – Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic – but the next two entries were up in the air. The goals they came up with for the event were to (a) include as many NHL players as possible, preferably drawing all 184 from within the league, and (b) to avoid the ugly blowouts that have plagued almost every recent international hockey tournament.

With those guidelines, it was thrown to Kris King, NHL senior vice-president of hockey operations, and NHLPA executive Mathieu Schneider to lead the way with some concept teams. Dozens of options were pondered, including having A and B teams for both Canada and the United States.

Ultimately, however, a team of “young guns” – the way the NHL had attempted at various All-Star Games from 2002 to 2009 with YoungStars teams – had staying power.

Thus, Team North America was born.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, by any means,” said Schneider, who had the job of explaining the idea to concerned young players like Aaron Ekblad at the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. “We waffled back and forth several times. In the end, we decided we wanted to have the best players in the world on the ice. This is our tournament. We have a chance to do that.

“We knew we had the six core teams. We even discussed going with six, but we didn’t really like the idea that so many great players wouldn’t get the opportunity to play. So we started to really analyze it as a best-on-best tournament and putting together eight teams.

“We looked at what soccer does in the Olympics [with 23-and-under players] and that was kind of the idea that spurred that. When we saw the roster, that’s when we were like ‘Holy cow – these guys have a really good team.’ But, to be honest, the first couple guys we talked to, until we showed them what the roster might look like, they said, ‘We don’t want to show up and be embarrassed at the thing.’”

From the beginning, the notion of resurrecting the World Cup of Hockey has had its critics and skeptics. This is an event that has been held only once in the past 20 years: A 2004 tournament that had the feeling of an underwhelming cash grab, a series of forgettable exhibition games that were overshadowed by the looming lockout.

So when the NHL announced last September that the tournament would return with an unusual format, with two invented teams – North America and Team Europe, the backlash was predictable.

What wasn’t was how quickly minds have changed once they hit the ice.

The 2016 edition of the World Cup of Hockey gets going in earnest on Saturday in Toronto, but the preliminary-round games have offered a glimpse of what is to come. The hockey has been surprisingly competitive, with players already shifting into something resembling a top gear. Most of the buzz around the tournament, however, has been about Team North America, after lopsided wins over Europe were filled with highlight-reel plays by teenagers Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews.

While Team Canada’s exhibition games have had the highest TV ratings in this country, North America’s are not far behind, with nearly 600,000 viewers watching each of their tune-up wins. Meanwhile, tickets to see the young guns are in heavy demand on the secondary market, far surpassing that of any non-Canadian team.

Early indications are that the team many believed would hurt the World Cup’s credibility will instead be what makes it memorable, bringing in an audience anxious to see the top young players in the world play against the veterans.

“These guys can play,” King said. “Not that we’re surprised. But the way they play together is pretty neat. It’s going to make for an interesting tournament. It looks like it’s going to work. And they’ve become the adopted team for the younger people that I talk to. Of course, Canada’s going to be the team that their dads are going to cheer for, but I think the kids are cheering for North America.”