PITTSBURGH – Despite success in their first two World Cup of Hockey pre-tournament games against Team Europe, Team North America head coach Todd McLellan wasn’t satisfied.
A 4-0 shutout and an offensive explosion in a 7-4 win were good starts, but McLellan knew that there was much more for his team to work on, and Wednesday afternoon’s loss to the Czech Republic showed that.
The Czechs played a physical game against the U-23 squad in a 3-2 victory at Consol Energy Center. They played tight defense and Michal Neuvirth delivered great goaltending. It was, as Connor McDavid said, “a good lesson” for the young side.
“I think it was a real eye-opener for us for the way the tournament’s going to go,” McDavid said. “We’re not going to play every game 7-4 or 4-0, so it’s a good test for us.”
Through two periods Team North America peppered the Czech goal with 32 shots, but couldn’t beat Neuvirth or Petr Mrazek. McDavid, who went pointless through the three pre-tournament games, admitted afterward he passed up too many scoring opportunities in the loss.
The loss, however, was a game Team North America needed. After dominating Team Europe, what the Czechs presented them was something that they could learn from and use when their tournament begins Sunday night against Finland: adversity.
“I thought it was a good game for our team to play in. It was heavy from the beginning,” said McLellan. “The Czechs have some size and use their bodies well as far as closing off lanes and body position and they go to the net hard. So it was a real good game for our young group to experience. I didn’t think we were as prepared for it as I thought we would be, at least in the first 10-15 minutes, but as the game wore on I think we started to figure it out a little bit more. I’m glad that we had that type of competition tonight.”
McLellan added that he feels a lot better about his team than he did following their second game against Team Europe. He feels his players know one another better on and off the ice and things are starting to gel within his lineup.
Now with three days off to work out their kinks, we’ll see just how this young group will respond when the games count.
“I think it’s good that we realize we have a lot of room to get better,” said defenseman Morgan Rielly. “When you play a team like that, they hit, they check you tight, that’s good to get an experience like that before it starts for real. I think moving forward we can build off this. It’s just going to make our team better.”
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