Team Europe was never supposed to get this far. The NHL stashed the amorphous blob of a team in Group A with the United States and Canada in the hopes that it would easily push the North American teams into the semis, and eventually, the finals.
That didn’t happen. At 5 p.m. (PT) Team Europe and Canada meet in the World Cup of Hockey finals. Team Europe features players from Slovenia, France, Denmark, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Norway — and those players found a way to blend together into a pretty effective hockey team.
Canada is a ginormous favorite heading into game one of the best-of-three finals with Bovada putting the money line at -1000 if you want to put money on the Canadians. For those of you not familiar with how sports gambling works, that means you put down $1,000 in order to get $1,100 back — in other words, do not do this. Or gamble on sports ever, actually, while we’re on the subject.
So Team Europe has its work cut out for it. The good news for the Europeans is that they’ve had their work cut out for them since before the tournament began, so they’re unlikely to crack under some newfound pressure. The bad news is that Canada has shown up to every game it has played and looked convincing in its victories. The Canadians aren’t taking anyone lightly.
In the team’s first meeting in the tournament, Canada won handily. The Canadians led from the fourth minute of the contest to the last in a 4-1 win that saw Canada outshoot Europe 46-20 after playing just 24 hours earlier. That’s scary.
There will be no quick turnaround in this series. Game one is tonight, two is on Thursday and if there is a game three we’ll get it on Saturday. That means we’re likely to see Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak in every game. The obvious formula for a Team Europe victory is Halak stealing two games while Price flops around like a dead fish.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, there’s not much Team Europe can do to hold off a team that’s good enough to put Joe Thornton on its fourth line. The Europeans have good players, Anze Kopitar being the best of them, but that kind of depth is something only Canada brings to the table.
Mats Zuccarello leads Europe with four points, while Christian Ehrhoff and Kopitar each have three. Those are the guys the Europeans need to deliver if the team is to have any chance of toppling Canada. To be clear, these players not scoring five points each in this series doesn’t mean they aren’t clutch, far from it, but Europe needs a miracle — and a miracle requires miraculous performances.
So as much as it would be nice to see the Canadian Sharks come home with the top prize, a part of me will be rooting for the underdog. They’ve made it this far, and their storybook tale would only become more impressive should they take down hockey’s giant.