Team North America faces World Cup adversity in loss to Russia

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 19: Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of Team Russia makes the second period stop on Connor McDavid #97 of Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Sergei Bobrovsky of Team Russia makes the second period stop on Connor McDavid of Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey. (Getty Images)

TORONTO – Confidence was high in the Team North America locker room in between the second and third periods of their 4-3 World Cup loss to Russia.

They were upset that they had squandered a first period advantage and let Russia jump out to a 4-1 second period lead before cutting it to 4-2 near the end of the frame. But they still believed a comeback was possible.

“Everybody was staying positive and we went out there and we definitely took it to them,” forward Auston Matthews said.

The NHL players age 23-and-under from the United States and Canada dominated the play in the third period, outshooting the powerful Russians 19-4 as they mounted a furious comeback. Unfortunately for Team North America, they ran out of time and now face a must-win Wednesday against Sweden to have a chance to punch their ticket to the semifinal.

“We didn’t get down on ourselves,” forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “We know that this is a good tournament and there are some great teams in this tournament and we didn’t get too down. It just didn’t go our way for a little bit. We wanted to get back on the board and we responded well and it was good to see.”

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Early on in the contest it appeared North America would exert their style of play against their opponent like they did against Finland the night before in their 4-1 win.

Connor McDavid out-hustled Pavel Datsyuk to the puck on the boards near center ice and drove towards the Russian net. There he found Matthews for a goal to put the game at 1-0 at the 5:14 mark.

Russia didn’t have a ton of chances at that point as North America carried the play. Then in the second period Russia started to dictate the game with four goals in between the 9:29 mark and the 15:43 mark to put the score at 4-1.

“We lost our way a little bit in the second period. I think that’s obvious, stating the obvious,” Team North America coach Todd McLellan said. “Couldn’t kill the momentum. They came at us real quickly for a series of goals, and it took us a little while to get it back. But I think it’s a good sign for us that we were able to regroup and claw back into the game and have a chance at the end at least.”

Said McDavid, “We just turned it into a track meet. It’s not what we needed against them. We kind of opened it up. We let them swing and build speed. We had way too much gap in between our forwards and our defense in the middle there. They had all kinds of time coming through the middle and in our D-zone. That’s not the way to play the Russians, but I thought we did a good job of responding and really making a game of it.

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Nugent-Hopkins scored on the power play at the 3:01 mark to bring North America within one. Then two penalties by Andrei Markov in the last seven minutes of the third gave North America several chances to tie the game, but they couldn’t get the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky. In the final minute, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere hit the post, much to the disappointment to some of the rowdy local crowd that’s seemed to jumped on the bandwagon of this creative group of youngsters.

“When you’ve never played together you don’t know what kind of character your team is going to have,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “For us to show that we can come back in a game against a team like Russia, it’s pretty impressive and it’s a sign of good things to come we have to stay positive and regroup for two days from now.”

Through two games, Team North America has turned into must-watch hockey. They’re the future of the NHL and fans have taken notice because of their style of play. But unless they can figure out a way to beat Sweden on Thursday in their final game of group play there may not be many more opportunities to see them in action.

It will be their first must-win game since they were came together as a team in early September. Are they up for the challenge?

“We need a little rest, but we’ll be ready for it,” McLellan said. “That’s a great thing for our team. You know, after being around this group, I wouldn’t say this, but thinking in the middle of July when you’re sitting there and you’re imagining your team and you’re thinking about a 1-1 record with a chance to play against a real good team to get to the finals, we would have taken that. Now, we’re disappointed that we didn’t win tonight, but we’ll be ready. They’re young guys. They’re going to come and play. They’re going to have fun doing it.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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