Of all the possible explanations for Canada’s World Cup of hockey team’s effectiveness, maybe Matt Duchene had the best explanation for its success.
“It’s a locker room full of alpha males,” Duchene said Wednesday. “The cool part is, we don’t have one alpha trying to be the alpha. We’re a group of elite players and elite pros that want to be the guy all the time. At the same time, depending on your situation, you can’t be that guy all the time. So we check our egos at the door and you can see the result.”
The result is a perfect 5-0 record. Canada can clinch the tournament with a victory Thursday night, which would duplicate its undefeated run to the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Even when Canada isn’t playing as its highest level, it is generally good enough to defeat any of the teams it has faced here.
Accordingly, much of the discussion during Wednesday’s day off between games focused on ways the World Cup format could be improved, considering all the empty seats and the generally tepid atmosphere you saw during Tuesday’s 3-1 Canada win over Europe.
One obvious solution is to play a one-game, winner-take-all final, as though it were a gold-medal game at the Olympics, instead of dragging the tournament out the way they are right now, when interest in the event seems to be ebbing by the day.
On the whole, Team Europe played an excellent game Tuesday that, but for a break here, or one less turnover there, might have gone its way. That might have created more suspense. As it was, Canada played a below-average game by its usual standards and still won by two goals. Eventually the Canadians are going to stumble – 15 consecutive wins in best-on-best competition is unsustainable. But the drama associated with previous incarnations of the tournament, in which the gap between Canada and the rest of the world was far narrower, seems to have disappeared.
“A team like Canada is so frustrating to play against,” acknowledged European forward Frans Nielsen. “You feel like you’re doing well and you’re creating chances and then you make just a small mistake and they score. It’s so tough.
“We’ve got to make sure we get don’t give them anything for free. We have to make sure they work for every scoring chance they get.”
Sidney Crosby is the big scoring dog in the tournament, with nine points in five games, with linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron running second and third in the scoring race. Overall, eight of the top 14 scorers in the tournament play for Canada. According to coach Mike Babcock, his core group – the mainstays and holdovers from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver – have learned to win together, step by step.
“You build a résumé over time,” Babcock said. “You feel comfortable and confident in what you’re doing. The more you win, the more you feel like you’re going to win. The more success you have, the steadier you are on the rudder for longer – and you’re not in as much of a hurry to change.
“It’s called confidence and you earn that by working hard and being prepared and over time, you feel you have an opportunity to be successful.
“But I want to make this clear. You need players. If you’re going to win, you need players.”
Ralph Krueger, coach of Team Europe, promised a few tweaks to his team’s system to eliminate the neutral-zone turnovers that were so costly in their first loss of the final round.
“There’s no country in the world that finishes better than Canada,” Krueger said, “but we’re playing courageous hockey. We purposely didn’t design a system to sit back and give you a boring one-four, wait-for-the-three-chances type of game. We’re trying to earn the win by allowing our players to play the game and allowing their skill to come in.
“I thought we were eye-to-eye with Canada in a lot of situations [Tuesday]. We’re proud of that, but that doesn’t make us happy. We want to end up winning this game [Thursday].”Report Typo/Error