Canada’s NHL superstars swallow pride, ice time for wins
TORONTO – Usually, it’s a welcome sight when a team’s fourth line hits the ice against yours. It might be a high-energy, low-talent group that’ll make you hustle, or maybe an ill-fitting group of spare parts that exists to give the other nine players a breather once every few shifts.
But when Canada’s fourth line hits the ice at the World Cup of Hockey? You’re staring at Joe Thornton, a point-per-game player for the San Jose Sharks last season who has 1,341 points in his career. You’re starting at Matt Duchene, who scored 30 goals for the Colorado Avalanche last season. You’re staring at Ryan O’Reilly, considered one of the finest two-way forwards in the NHL who had 60 points for the Buffalo Sabres last season.
Oh, and if you happen to draw Canada’s third defensive pairing? Then you’re facing Alex Pietrangelo, the St. Louis Blues’ top defenseman, and Brent Burns, who had 75 points last season and was a Norris Trophy finalist.
So … good luck.
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“Canada has the most depth right now in the world, there’s no question about that. They can lose players, star players, and they have another tens of other players that can replace them and still contribute,” said Team Europe defenseman Zdeno Chara.
“And the special thing is that out of all the players who represent Canada, most of the players, if not all of them, are playing in their prime time. You’re going to have 20 guys, playing at the top of their game, in their prime, for one team. It’s pretty special.”
What makes it even more special is that fact that this collection of NHL all-stars check their egos, forget about their ice time and buy into the national team concept without a second thought.
Like Duchene, who averaged 18 minutes and 35 seconds in ice time during the regular season, but hasn’t played more than 12:33 in any of Canada’s four World Cup of Hockey wins. Or Thornton, who played an average of 18:22 in the regular season, and hasn’t broken 11:37 with Team Canada.
The way these players view it, getting any ice time is an honor, because you’re playing for Team Canada.
“Just knowing Canada is so deep, it is really is a privilege to play on these teams. I don’t think anybody really cares how many minutes, who scores, who plays in net, it’s just being part of this team is special. It’s not about all the individual stuff, it’s about who wins at the end of the day,” said Thornton.
The “logo on the front, not the name on the back” mentality in hockey is one of its most tired clichés, but it’s the epitome of Team Canada. No one cares about the goal total by their names. They only care about the color of the medal dangling over that logo at the end of the tournament.
“There’s a reason why Canada has won a lot. The complete buy-in from every player, the attitude everyone has coming in, it’s very light and confident but it’s also business-like at the same time,” said forward Steven Stamkos, who averaged 19:45 with the Tampa Bay Lightning but has played under 15 minutes in three of Canada’s four games. “We’re going out and winning this game and we don’t care how we do it, we don’t care what happens, who scores, who doesn’t, guys are blocking shots, guys are back-checking. … You want to be a guy that’s doing everything right and that’s something every guy here is willing to do.’’
Canada’s success demands that total buy-in, but that success also maintains it. (To put “success” in perspective, Jonathan Toews is now 45-1-1 with Team Canada since 2006.)
“They’re all-in. They’re elite competitors. They’re captains on all their teams,” said coach Mike Babcock, the conductor of this orchestra of first-chairs. “This is our opportunity. They don’t come again. In sport, tomorrow doesn’t count. You might not get another opportunity to win. If there isn’t any better reason to be all-in, to me that’s the reason.”
It also helps when you have one of the greatest collections of hockey talent ever placed on a single team.
“Canada has four first lines,” said Europe coach Ralph Krueger.
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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