TORONTO – Team Canada’s players are running out of space in their trophy rooms.
They have collected a staggering 55 gold medals in international competition, including at the World Junior Championship, World Championship, World Cup and Olympic levels.
That’s an average of three gold medals per skater. In fact,Logan Couture is Canada’s only skater without a gold medal to his credit — missing out as a final cut on a few of those dream teams.
The count going into this best-of-three final series for this World Cup of Hockey is Team Canada 55, Team Europe 0. No player on the pan-European team has won gold in any major international tournament, with only five players lucky enough to even appear in a final.
That makes international experience one of the stark differences in the tale of the tape. It is also what makes it compelling, with Team Europe representing the peripheral hockey countries of the world in their bid for supremacy against Canada.
Team Europe president Franz Reindl said he’s received calls from the ice hockey federations of the Republic of Georgia, Portugal and even Mexico, cheering for them as the face of the faceless in addition to the eight flags Team Europe already flies.
Europe head coach Ralph Krueger said the only reason these players haven’t won more is because they are never really given a chance. They’ve done it in the NHL: Team Europe has won the second-most Stanley Cups (eight) in the World Cup of Hockey; only Canada has more with 15.
“So many players in this room understand what it takes to win at the highest level, to win at the Stanley Cup level,” Krueger said Sunday. “They’ve just never been able to do it with a team in a national team concept or in a tournament of this nature.”
Joe Thornton, who met his wife in Switzerland while playing in the 2004-05 lockout and has a better grasp on European hockey than most Canadian-born NHLers, said it “wasn’t fair” to use experience as an indication of how this final might play out.
“They’re all from little countries,” Thornton said. “They’ve got guys that have won Stanley Cups and things like that. They’ve got some pretty darn good hockey players — I mean [Anze] Kopitar is arguably one of the best centres in the league. [Zdeno] Chara is a great shutdown guy.
“Sure, they haven’t won any gold medals or World Juniors, but they’ve got some quality players.”
Europe’s Andrej Sekera is one of those five players to appear in a final, ultimately falling to Russia in the 2012 World Championship in Finland. He said his team is using that limited experience to their advantage, but also rallying around the fact that this will be their best (and possibly only) chance to beat Team Canada.
“We just talk a lot in the dressing room,” Sekera said. “The guys that have been there before, they grab the lead and give us their words of wisdom. We just try to listen to them and play the right way.”
For a Slovenian like Kopitar, advancing to a final against Canada seemed only possible in a dream. Now, with the benefit of drawing from a population of nearly 200 million, he has a shot.
“They’re forever fighting relegation in world tournaments,” Krueger said. “They’re forever fighting just to get to Olympic Games, forget about competing for anything at them.”
In a way, Team Europe’s lack of experience could provide a leg up. They have a hunger burning that no one on Team Canada could possibly understand.
The problem for Europe is that what has made Canada so dominant on the world stage — now the victors of 14 consecutive international best-on-best games — is that they take Latvia or Belarus as seriously as the United States.
The Canadians want a third, a fourth, a fifth gold medal. There is no such thing as too many. Figuring out where to store them all is a good problem to have.
“There’s just a very good confidence and poise in just focusing on what we have to do today to achieve our ultimate goal — and that’s really to win the tournament,” John Tavares said. “I think we just try to be as focused as we can and not take anyone for granted. We’re playing against the best teams in the world. You’ve got to earn it to win it. We don’t focus on a lot of the talk.”
Frank Seravalli via TSN | Photo: weixin51.ca
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