The Benchwarmer Report: Canada to Face Sweden or Europe in Best-of-3 World Cup Final

Elizabeth Salsberg - 4A Nanotechnology
Posted on: September 27, 2016

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey (WCH) is the training camp for the ages, as the best of the best take the ice in the first WCH tournament since 2004.  Many have had their doubts about the NHL-sanctioned tournament, but thus far the hockey has been phenomenal to watch, particularly after the offseason drought!

This time around, a new format has certainly made things more interesting. In addition to the traditional international hockey powerhouses like Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the USA, continental teams Europe and North America (players aged 24 and under) have created a more competitive international tournament than most of us are used to. To illustrate: typically Germany, Denmark, or Switzerland round out international tournaments, yet these teams are significantly weaker than their continental counterpart, Team Europe.

There was also a ton of hype for Team North America going in, which featured young phenoms Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Austin Matthews. The advantage of including an under-24 team is that the NHL gets to showcase young talent while simultaneously maintaining the presence of “older” talent that may not otherwise make the senior team had a guy like Connor McDavid been available. For example, Anaheim Ducks forward Cory Perry was a late addition to Team Canada. Had McDavid been eligible for Team Canada, one would have to think a “fringe” player like Perry would not have had a chance. As preposterous as that sounds, Team Canada is so deep that yes, Cory Perry was regarded as a “fringe” player. So was Sharks forward Logan Couture.

Returning to Team North America, they mostly lived up to the hype barring a 4-3 loss to Russia. Despite finishing with the same record as Russia (2-1), Team North America was eliminated due to the head-to-head tiebreaker format. As a result, Team Russia faced Team Canada in the first semifinal this Saturday.

Team Canada had been on a tear up heading into yet another installment of the Cold War Rivalry, with a 3-0 record and +11 goal differential. The seemingly age-old Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry was back on, and what an exciting game it was. Crosby started the game off in style, netting Canada’s first 10 minutes into the game.

The Canadians continued to pour on the pressure, but Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) kept it close through the first frame. The Russians finally got on the board 11 minutes into the second period as Tampa Bay dynamo winger Nikita Kucherov fired a laser beam past Canadian goaltender Carey Price, knotting the score at 1-1. Anxious moments followed for the Canadians as Bobrovsky made sensational save after sensational save to keep the door shut until his team went ahead 2-1 on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov with about two minutes remaining in the second. Team Canada stormed back, with just 1:12 left in the period; Crosby engineered a sweet feed to Bruins forward Brad Marchand for his first of two on the night.

Team Canada came through in the final frame with Brad Marchand, Cory Perry, and John Tavares (New York Islanders) each netting one within a span of 8 minutes to punch their ticket to the Final. Final score: 5-3 Canada, with Canada outshooting Russia 47-34. Despite allowing five goals, the game would have been substantially more lopsided had it not been for Bobrovsky’s stellar play between the pipes.

The Canadians will now face the winner of the Sweden-Europe semifinal in the best-of-3 final. Team Europe, lead by Anze Kopitar (L.A Kings), Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins), and Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks), has been a pleasant surprise this World Cup, with nobody really expecting them to make it past the round robin. Then again, one would have to think that any team with those three has a chance to win any day of the week. They upset Sweden in the pre-tournament, and will be looking to do it again here.

The Swedes, lead by captain Henrik Sedin, know they have their work cut out for them. Throughout the round robin, Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers) has been on his game, posting a .953 save percentage. The 34-year-old Lundqvist is not the only Swede whose window to win big internationally is closing; as the King, the Sedins, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Kronwall begin to hand the torch to youngsters Gabriel Landskog, Louie Eriksson, and Victor Hedman among others, they are extra motivated to win. Look for the Swedes to come out hungry against the rag-tag Team Europe, having learned from their mistakes in the pre-tournament.