Team North America shows speed, creativity in win over Finland
TORONTO – Early in Team North America’s 4-1 World Cup win over Finland, Johnny Gaudreau often found himself standing up on the bench as one of his teammates zipped past him for a scoring chance.
Even if the rush didn’t yield a goal, it still stoked the youthful exuberance of the club of NHL players from the United States and Canada age 23-and-under.
“That’s the type of team we have. We use our speed to our advantage and hopefully win games,” Gaudreau said.
Coming into Sunday’s contest, Team North America was considered somewhat of an unknown.
It had beat Team Europe twice in exhibition play by a combined score of 11-4. But North America also struggled against the Czech Republic, which had one of the weaker rosters in the World Cup, in their last pre-tournament game.
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On Sunday they looked like one of the best teams in the tournament thanks to their speed and creativity.
“I actually had a question coming into the rink if I thought our team was cocky, because they said we’ve been kind of pumping our own tires. But I think we were just believing in ourselves,” forward Connor McDavid said. “Generally I think everyone believed in each other and that we could do something here and it’s a good start, like I said. Still a long, long way to go.”
Overall 10 players hit the score sheet, the only player with multiple points was defenseman Colton Parayko who notched two assists. Even though the team has been together for about a week and a half, it showed the cohesion of a group that had been together far longer.
“I think we just played a great team game.” Gaudreau said. “You can see how skilled the guys are offensively and how skilled the defensive guys are in the back to, so it has been a lot of fun.”
Just 5:03 into the game Jack Eichel buried a rebound off a shot by Auston Matthews to put the contest at 1-0. At the 5:26 mark of the second period Gaudreau tipped a puck past Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne off a Colton Parayko shot to make it 2-0. Just 2:01 later, Jonathan Drouin followed up a rebound off his own shot by slipping the puck around Rinne to make it 3-0 North America. By that point, team North America was flying and they had essentially put a stranglehold on the game.
“We stuck to our game plan, kept the puck away from Rinne, put it behind their defensemen and used our speed,” Eichel said. “That’s how we’re going to have success in this tournament.”
To some it may be easy to dismiss the Finns as a team in this tournament with less firepower than some of the other nations. But in recent years, Finland has figured out ways to pull out international success in ‘best-on-best’ type tournaments. Finland has medaled in the last three Olympics and also finished second in the 2004 World Cup.
Still, even with all their international experience and veteran savvy, they were no match for Team North America.
“That is the exciting part of that team, you can’t predict what they are going to do,” Rinne said. “There is a lot of individual skill and a lot of speed. It was a fun challenge to play against those guys. Obviously, the result is not what we were looking for. But, we have a young team too and I think we can all learn from that game.”
Does Team North America’s big win signify them as a contender in the tournament? It’s unclear at this stage. On Monday they take on Russia, which has one of the most skilled forward groups in the World Cup. North America also has a looming date with Sweden, a pre-tournament favorite, in group play.
But at very least this game showed this team has potential to play high-end entertaining hockey in this tournament. The loudest cheers from the Air Canada Centre on Monday night were for North America.
“We know we’re not expected to win by anybody really, but we know in the room, that’s all that matters, is we think we can win, so I think today was a great start for us,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “We’re not going to get overconfident. We’re not going to come in tomorrow and expect to win. We’re going to have to show up tomorrow. The Russians, they lost today so they need to win tomorrow. We’re going to come out and try to match the intensity they’re going to bring.”
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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper
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