So much for the setup. What we got was an upset. Ralph Krueger outcoached John Tortorella and the World Cup of Hockey just got a little more interesting, didn’t it?
On a normal day, a hockey team with seven Stanley Cup rings and more than 12,000 NHL games to their name won’t be an underdog. This however, was not a normal day. It was the opening day of the much anticipated World Cup of Hockey and the team that didn’t have an anthem, didn’t have the depth and didn’t really have a common cause to play for kicked things off with a performance as impressive as they come.
An American team that couldn’t seem to find a passing game, couldn’t get through center ice in one piece and eventually left goaltender Jonathan Quick on his own a few too many times will now have to chew the consequences of a 3-0-loss at the hands of Team Europe. First hurdle: beat Canada on Tuesday, or report to training camp Friday.
We all knew this could happen, but we really didn’t think it would and so the element of surprise was all around us this afternoon. In the stands, in the press room and it looked as if that element of surprise hit the American bench as soon as Ryan McDonough let Frans Nielsen slide past him on the blue line and feed Marian Gaborik for what would be the game winner.
I don’t think for one second that Team USA underestimated Team Europe, but media people like me tend to force these things. We look for angles, stories and plot twists even where there really aren’t any.
John Tortorella is not exactly the most popular coach in media circles. In fact, we know he is actively disliked by many members of the press and for the most part, that dislike is mutual. Five minutes on Youtube will tell you as much. Things didn’t exactly ease up when he started the tournament preparations by addressing the Colin Kaepernick story by promising to bench any player that didn’t stand up for the national anthem. Then, hours before opening night we learned that he had decided to leave on of his most profiled players, Dustin Byfuglien, off the team as a healthy scratch.
As the loss became a fact, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News tweeted:
”USA can take one positive for this game. All their players stood up for the anthem. Took a knee for the game, though.”
As Tortorella entered the press room, the creme de la creme of international hockey media all stood around him (I was perched up against a wall in the back), waiting for the kettle to boil over. But Tortorella would have none of that. The fiery Columbus Blue Jackets and Team USA coach was calm, and to the point.
– I think you’ve gotta give the other team a lot of credit for how well they defended, he said at the post-game press conference.
And that’s about as much analysis as this game needs, if you ask me.
Team Europe made a pretty imposing figure, actually. Throughout the game they stuck to a smart, conservative approach to the game in their own end zone and cynically utilized the weapons at their disposal on the counter-attack.
To no surprise, really. Ralph Krueger knows these things. He coached Team Switzerland through eleven World Championships and three Olympic tournaments, which sums up to about 100 games. For how many of those games was he behind the bench of the most talented team? Rarely. For the most part, the Swiss were always the underdogs, relying on hard work and one or two shifty lines to play big minutes and strike when chances were given.
Ring a bell? It might ring again Monday afternoon.
(This text was originally published at Eliteprospects.com)