Team Europe, World Cup underdogs, ready for Sweden semifinal

Anze Kopitar #11 of Team Europe attempts to get around Drew Doughty #8 of Team Canada (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Anze Kopitar #11 of Team Europe attempts to get around Drew Doughty #8 of Team Canada (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

TORONTO – They were thrilled to have a spot at the World Cup of Hockey party, these European players from random countries that otherwise would never have received an invitation to play.

Little did we know they’d relish the role of party-poopers, and look to continue playing it in the semifinals against Sweden this weekend.

Team Europe – invented for this tournament so players from countries outside of Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic could participate – will face the Swedes after closing out Group A play with a 4-1 loss to Canada. Their record stands at 2-1-0, and their shocking win over the United States in the tournament opener ended up propelling them to the next round.

“We sensed an opportunity in the first game and the players really showed up for that one,” said Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger. “To come back two days later and match that performance, or even come stronger, against the Czechs showed a real special spirit in the group. This Canada game will dampen our spirits for a short period of time, but we have three days in between to get our spirits back up and pull together and not only match but beat those performances.”

The 23-and-under Team North America is, by far, the darling of the World Cup. But Team Europe might be the more incredible story: a collection of players thrown together from disparate nations that weren’t strong enough to warrant their own entries in the World Cup of Hockey. (Including Slovakia and Switzerland, two perennial Olympic hockey nations.)

In a short time, they’ve not only bonded as teammates but figured out how they needed to play to excel in the tournament – overcoming two embarrassing losses to North America in the exhibition rounds, and finding their footing as a structured and patient team.

“Nobody believed in this group, especially after the first two games against the young guys. They crushed us,” said winger Marian Hossa. “Nobody gave us a chance to win a game. Now here we are, top four teams. “It’s not the Olympics, but the best players are here.”

So now Team Europe goes from a collection of players just happy to have a chance to compete in the World Cup to a collection of players – whose own nations don’t typically have a prayer of winning an international tournament – that are three wins away taking the big prize.

One of those wins would have to come against a Swedish team that was crushed, 6-2, the last time they met in the final exhibition game in Washington, DC.

“Well, we can definitely take courage from our game in Washington,” said Krueger. “We know that they had just come from Europe, and they’re a much improved team right now. I thought they reacted well in a difficult situation and difficult start today. I know them inside out, also, so many games against them, as do most of our players.

“It’s a Euro-Euro battle, and we definitely feel confident going into it, but we know it’ll be a stronger team than we saw in Washington for sure. But I believe we’re a better team and more knowledgeable of what we’re capable of.”

As the Americans found out, you underestimate Team Europe at your own peril.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.