When the format teamwise of the World Cup of Hockey was announced months ago I am sure many had serious doubts about the North America side. The team would be comprised of young, up-and-coming players under the age of 23. Many felt the team was gimmicky and too inexperienced. Over their first two pre-tournament games Team North America under the coaching of Todd McLellan they have proven to be a side that other teams will have to take seriously.
Both games have been against the much more veteran Team Europe. The average age of North America is 22 while that of Europe is 30. A big gap. After a 4-0 win in Quebec City on Thursday night the youngsters showed that experience isn’t everything. Game two was last night in Montreal at the Bell Centre and the 1st period showed that North America’s win was not a blip on the radar.
At the end of the first 20 minutes of play North America had leapt out to a 5-1 lead chasing Europe’s starting goalie, Thomas Greiss, after just over 10 minutes. Aaron Ekblad (2 goals), Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Reilly, and Dylan Larkin all scored in the 1st for North America. With their enthusiasm and speed they caused plenty of turnovers and were back on offense in the blink of an eye. Europe seemed to not know what hit them looking rather slow and dazed. Only Pierre-Edouard Bellemare managed to get a puck beyond North America’s John Gibson.
The younger team was on a different plane than its adversaries over the 1st period. They were faster on their skates and showed an eagerness that Europe did not. North America was literally skating circles around their opponents. Sometimes a period like that is bad for a team in the respect that it becomes pond hockey with everyone trying to make highlight reel plays instead of sticking to basic fundamental hockey.
With some veteran savvy Europe scored the game’s next 3 goals over a period and a bit. It did not hurt that Jaroslav Halak provided some better goaltending (Greiss allowed 4 goals on 8 shots) for the European side. He stopped the 12 shots he saw in the 2nd allowing his team’s 2 by Marian Gaborik to get them back in the game.
It became tight collar time when Frans Neilson scored at 8:17 of the 2rd to make it a one goal game. Game on! Gaudreau sealed the affair with his second goal of the game on a great move then backhand shot making the game 6-4 just over 3 minutes later. Then Larkin scored his second of the game into an empty net.
Once the game tightened up over the 2nd and 3rd periods Europe clawed its way back into the game while the younger side showed signs of sloppiness and a lack of commitment in the defensive zone. Coach McLellan said that they are going to have to play a tighter game defensively going forward as they cannot expect to give up 4 goals and win many games.
A couple of standouts for me in the game were Johnny Gaudreau, Roman Josi and Auston Matthews. Gaudreau was in danger of being overshadowed by his linemates Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, but it is he who has grabbed the headlines with 3 goals in 2 games. The smooth skating Josi of Team Europe really showed how good an offensive player and passer he is on a couple of occasions. Then there is the youngest player on Team North America, Auston Matthews. The 18-year-old did not look out of place on the ice showing skill and confidence while possessing the puck.
It is refreshing to see a team that tries high skill stuff and is obviously having fun playing. They actually crack smiles on the ice. Putting the puck in the net is not going to be a problem for North America. And they did all this damage without their best player, Connor McDavid, registering a point. During the tournament other teams are going to have to contend with all that speed and enthusiasm. Should make for some interesting games.
One more pre-tournament game for each team before the tournament starts for real on September 17.
-Goals: 1st Period:
5:20: North America – Aaron Ekblad assisted by Auston Matthews and Brandon Saad
6:27: North America – Dylan Larkin assisted by Vincent Trocheck and Ryan Murray
7:19: North America – Aaron Ekblad assisted by Nathan MacKinnon
8:55: Europe – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare assisted by Thomas Vanek
10:22: North America – Morgan Reilly assisted by Jonathan Drouin
15:54: North America – Johnny Gaudreau assisted by Mark Scheifele
4:50: Europe – Marian Gaborik assisted by Roman Josi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
19:15: Europe – Marian Gaborik assisted by Mats Zuccarello and Frans Nielsen
8:17: Europe – Frans Nielsen assisted by Mats Zuccarello and Roman Josi
11:29: North America – Johnny Gaudreau assisted by Nathan MacKinnon and Colton Parayko
19:00: North America – (en) Dylan Larkin assisted by Jack Eichel and Colton Parayko
-Shots on Goal: North America – 33
Europe – 33
-3 Stars: 1) Johnny Gaudreau – North America
2) Aaron Ekblad – North America
3) Marian Gaborik – Europe
-Final Score: North America – 7
Europe – 4