Team Europe’s run continues, though its future isn’t clear

Jonathan Toews scored twice for Canada to win 4-1 over Team Europe, giving them a perfect record in the round robin tournament.

Even though the international all-star team will advance to the semifinals, Team Europe couldn’t possibly beat the host Canadians on the ice nor steal any thunder from Team North America Wednesday.

Team Canada looks like it will overpower whatever stands in the way while the McDavids, MacKinnons and the other youngsters do something every shift that takes your breath away.

So Team Europe wasn’t the story yesterday or even at the top of the list of subtexts.

Nonetheless, the best of the rest of Europe is moving on to play in the semifinals against Sweden, the only one of the continent’s traditional powers to have secured a place in the elimination rounds pending the result of the Russia-Finland game Thursday.

Going back a week, the consensus opinion labelled Team North America and Team Europe as confection to fill out the field at the World Cup of Hockey and maybe that was the original intent of the framers of the tournament. At this point, however, the makeshift Euro squad is a win away from the best-of-three final, even after a 4-1 loss to Canada Wednesday night at the ACC.

The Euros hung around within a goal for a 10-minute stretch in the second period and looked like a threat to tie the game when Roman Josi’s broken stick on a shot in the slot produced a 2-on-an-unarmed-1 and Jonathan Toews’ second goal of the contest.

The Euros remained within two for most of the third period as well but were more of an annoying opponent than a threatening one, being outshot 46-20.

While you suppose Sweden will be the heavy favourite in its semifinal, Europe might prove to be something more than a nuisance.

If Sweden falls, that upset would only be as shocking as the other great surprise in Team Europe’s very limited history, its smiting of the U.S. in this World Cup’s opening game.

Hockey fans hope that Team Europe’s play here isn’t a one-off, that maybe this is the solution to a very top-heavy distribution of talent among the nations in the IIHF’s top 10 teams.

A game in desperate need of balance in its international competitions has seemingly manufactured one by erasing borders and putting together a squad of allies. No one was betting that they’d pull it off. Even with the performance here, even if coach Ralph Krueger’s lot made it to the final, it’s hard to imagine Team Europe could replicate the results next time.

There’s no knowing exactly when the league and the players’ association will be able to reach an agreement to organize a World Cup. Likewise, there’s no knowing if they’d stick with the current eight-team format. For the sake of argument, let’s just suppose WCH becomes a quadrennial and thus it’s staged in 2020.

Consider the field in four years’ time.

Let’s suppose that Canada will restock—yes, Sidney Crosby and Toews will be past their peaks in 2020 and perhaps goaltending will be a question mark. Still, there’s talent in the pipeline, witness the play this week of Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Scheifele and others who could move into the Canadian Full-Fledged Adults’ lineup.

Let’s also suppose the Americans will have to be better the next time out, given the talent they have on North America’s roster. They certainly couldn’t do worse in managing and coaching.

Sweden will see turnover but likely not regress. The Sedins will be gone but there already in their relative dotage, their best games behind them. Henrik Lundqvist almost certainly so, but they have a couple of prominent pieces who have showed well here—if Gabriel Landeskog and Filip Forsberg were from Saskatchewan and Minnesota they’d be eligible for Team North America by age and would be sure to crack the lineup.

The Finns also have all kinds of talent in pipeline—three of the first five picks in this year’s draft class, six players on the tournament roster who’d have come along in the 2012 draft or thereafter. If anything the Finns should be significantly better, building on their results in recent under-18s and under-20s.

The Russians, well, it’s harder to see sunlight. You’ll find the odd young talent in their line-ups, Nikita Kucherov for the Russians in particular, but the Ovechkin-Malkin era will be in its sunset by 2020.

Which brings us to Team Europe: Only two players on the Euro roster are young enough to look at Team North America as contemporaries, Leon Draisaitl and Tobias Rieder, both of Germany.

Between them, only Draisaitl has impressed here with goals in his first two World Cup games: a great finish on a return pass on a 2-on-zip versus the Americans and the overtime winner versus the Czechs. (That said though he was hard to find in his just-under 11 minutes against Canada.)

The reason that Krueger was able to put together a team utterly from scratch and on the fly is his reliance on veterans, guys in their early- or mid-30s like Frans Nielsen and Marian Gaborik, guys in their late 30s like Marian Hossa, Mark Streit and Zdeno Chara.

Yes, Josi, 26 here, will still be close to his peak but you imagine four years from now Anze Kopitar, the other Team Europe linchpin, will have a lot of miles on him.

When this team came together in Quebec for its training camp, there was no yesterday to draw. Two great upsets later there’s really no tomorrow to look forward to, at least beyond the weekend. Take nothing away, it’s been a great run but it’s also an outlier.

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