As proud as I am of the San Jose Sharks’ effort last season, I also do not want to spend much time reflecting on how talented and well constructed the Pittsburgh Penguins roster was. Sufficed to say a team built around speed and skill, not heart and grit, absolutely decimated a team that tried to find a balance between the two.
So when Team North America lit up Team Finland on Sunday night, we saw some of the same surprise we saw after Team USA’s loss on Saturday. That doesn’t make sense. Yes, Team North America has an age cap (23 and under) but let’s not pretend players under 24 are automatically overmatched against a team of “adults.”
Let’s start with the “adults” North America matched up against on Sunday. The 18 skaters Finland dressed on Sunday have an average age of 25.5, so the age gap isn’t quite as big with some of these teams as you might think. In fairness, we’ll see a much bigger one if/when North America meets up with Canada or the United States, but the majority of the teams in this tournament aren’t exactly old.
It’s only one game, but the continued success of North America (and I think they’ll experience a lot of it) should send a message about the biases we already knew about in the NHL; namely that young players are routinely undervalued by general managers and coaches. These guys can play and they’re often more talented than the veterans coaches so frequently fall in love with.
Age is no guarantee of wisdom, nor is youth a guarantee of innovation. It seems in the NHL, it seems like the first part of that is ignored. What we’re seeing is a group of great hockey players, regardless of age, that can skate around the older, slower and more physical skaters on the other side of the ice.
You know, like in the Stanley Cup ... you get it. It’s just one game and even North America winning this tournament is unlikely to change the hearts and minds of the NHL super structure, but don’t let people tell you that this is a surprise. Putting a group of amazing hockey players on the same team, regardless of age, is a recipe for success, it turns out.
Someone should let Team USA know.