Calling Team Europe ‘unconventional’ would be an understatement. Being coached by the Canadian-born German Chairman of an English Premier League club? A team consisting of players from across the continent, excluding Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the Czech Republic? It’s hard to find a stranger situation in the tournament, other than maybe Team North America.
Oddly enough, some of those oddities are an advantage for Team Europe. Compiling talent from all of Europe gives the team cornerstones up front and on the blueline in Anze Kopitar and Roman Josi, who are among the very best centers and defensemen in the entire tournament, respectively.
Kopitar and Josi are surrounded by solid depth, as they are two of Europe’s 14 players that scored at least 30 points in the NHL last season. That mark is tied with Sweden for the fourth-highest in the tournament, behind Canada, the United States, and North America. Mats Zuccarello, Marian Hossa, and Zdeno Chara all have big-game experience internationally and in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the latter two Slovakians can play at a high level as they reach the twilight of their respective careers.
He may be in charge of a soccer club nowadays, but Ralph Krueger has plenty of experience. He coached Switzerland for 12 years, and 48 games in charge of the Edmonton Oilers under his belt. Krueger was fired at the end of that season. However, he led the Oilers to their best record in terms of points percentage since 2009, and a mark they’re yet to top. His experience internationally, as well as dealing with an abbreviated training camp, and making the most of a less-than-ideal situation in Edmonton should serve him well here, even if he’s thought more about the Europa League than Team Europe since his last coaching stint.
It’s still difficult to quantify behind-the-scenes dynamics and locker room chemistry, and Krueger certainly has his work cut out from him bringing players from eight different countries together. But, in a tournament teeming with national pride, there’s something to be said about the team with a continental chip on its shoulder. The organizers of the World Cup of Hockey concluded that their respective countries’ teams weren’t good enough to field a team in this tournament. Do you think that’s going to sit well with 23 professional hockey players, who have to be among the most driven and competitive people to get to that position?
With strong foundations surrounded by solid depth, Europe’s roster construction is actually fairly conventional. It’s just about everything else that is not. In a tournament that’s already pretty unconventional, though? That just may prove to be the right formula.