Is heavy favorite Canada taking Team Europe seriously?
TORONTO – It takes an average of 90 seconds for someone to respond to a text message. It takes 90 seconds to watch a typical advertisement during the Super Bowl. It takes 90 seconds to make a bag of Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice.
Canada has trailed in the World Cup of Hockey for 89 seconds. Canada has faced four teams, and has trailed for less time than it takes to text a friend, watch a commercial or make microwave rice.
Don’t they wish they were challenged even a little bit before reaching the final against Team Europe?
“Not at all!” laughed general manager Doug Armstrong. “I like it just the way it’s going.”
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Canada’s a juggernaut. They’ve looked unbeatable in the tournament, rarely being pushed and certainly never panicked. They’ve scored 14 goals and given up just three. They have the NHL equivalent of four first lines and three defensive top pairings. Carey Price, their goaltender, has never lost an international game, going 14-0-0.
Bovada currently has them at 1-to-10 favorites against Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey final; in other words, you’d have to spend $10 on a wager in order to win $1.
Canada and Europe met in a World Cup round robin game that carried little meaning beyond seeding, as both had qualified for the semifinals. Canada won, 4-1, and absolutely dominated in chances: 83 shot attempts to 53 for Team Europe. (A Team Europe that found out it’ll be without forward Marian Gaborik for the World Cup final due to a foot injury.)
So they have a convincing win over the team they’re facing in the Final. They’ve hardly trailed in the tournament. How does a team stay motivated and avoid complacency?
“I mean, I think we’ve been dealing with that since this tournament started with the expectation that we’re supposed to win,” said Steven Stamkos of Team Canada.
“Everybody has been talking about that, but no one has really talked about that in the room. It’s just go out there and win the next game that we play. We know that we have the talent, but we know we have the hard work.”
Are they worried about facing a Cinderella team?
“I don’t know. I don’t spend much time thinking about Cinderella, so it’s not a big issue for me,” said coach Mike Babcock. But I get ready for [Anze] Kopitar and [Frans] Nielsen and the ‘D’ and the forwards and the players on their team. So I pretty much leave Cinderella out of it.”
Europe has about three things going for them in this series. The first is goalie Jaroslav Halak, a giant-killer from Slovakia that has the added motivation of facing Carey Price of Canada, a.k.a. the goalie the Montreal Canadiens chose to keep when they traded Halak to St. Louis in 2010.
The second is coach Ralph Krueger, who not only has Europe playing a deadening style of puck-possession hockey, but was part of the Team Canada brain-trust under Mike Babcock for the Sochi Olympics.
They third is the possibility that someway, somehow, Canada will make the same mistake the Americans made and choke on their own hype against a beatable opponent.
“Canada will be the favorite, and will be under pressure. Everyone expects them to win,” said Miroslav Satan, general manager of Team Europe.
Joe Thornton of Team Canada agrees. And that’s why they aren’t taking Team Europe lightly.
“Everyone expects us to win, but everyone thought Sweden was going to win, too. And everyone thoughts the States were going to beat’em,” he said, citing two teams Europe vanquished en route to the World Cup final.
“We know what’s at stake. We can’t take our foot off the pedal. We have to attack and be focused. They’re not going to lay over and quit.”
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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