Team Europe is a “miscellaneous” category for the hodgepodge of players that comprise this World Cup of Hockey (WCH) team. While the World Cup of Hockey’s “Big Six”” teams represent specific nations of origin, Team Europe includes players in nine countries outside of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Team Europe includes six Slovaks, five Germans, four Danes, three Swiss and one player each from Italy, France, Slovenia, Austria and Norway. Canadian-born Coach Ralph Krueger will lead the team. Krueger spent the majority of his career in Europe and led an Austrian team to five straight championships, eventually becoming champions of the European Ice Hockey League.
While Team Europe does feature some offensive and defensive line strengths, it is also considered the WCH tournament underdogs. Why? Well, experts say it’s because there is no common cause among the team, no flag or nationalistic pride for them to rally around. While that may indeed be true, it also seems that this is a team comprised of mediocre and yesterday’s superheroes — Anze Kopitar excepted.
Great Center Kopitar Must Carry Team Europe
Even though the team’s 23-man roster includes nine forwards outside of Kopitar, the lineup seems to pale in comparison to the more dynamic lines seen on Teams Canada, Russia and Sweden. The top forwards for Team Europe seem to be the dynamic Slovenia duo of Anze Kopitar (LA Kings) and Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks) and Norway’s Mats Zuccarello (New York Rangers).
Newly appointed captain of the Kings, Kopitar is today’s modern hockey superstar. Kopitar is fast, plays offensive and defensive hockey, and is exceptional with face-offs. He is a consistent league leading scorer and has led the Kings in scoring for nine consecutive seasons. His skills were essential to the Kings 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup championships. NHL.com recently voted Kopitar as one of the top centers in the WCH, a close second to Sidney Crosby (Team Canada). While Kopitar is an amazing center and his skills are critical to keep Team Europe alive during the tournament, it’s doubtful they are enough to carry this team.
Photo courtesy NHL.com
Two other “star” forwards include Hossa and Zuccarello. Big congrats to Hossa on completing his 18th NHL season, but at 37 years old and a 2016 season that saw him score 13 goals and post one of the lowest shooting rates in the league, it appears that his best years are behind him. That said, he does offer deep experience in high pressure, playoff situations, but it’s doubtful that will lend much support to this team. On the right wing, Team Europe will play two-time Norwegian Olympic veteran Zuccarello. What Zuccarello lacks in stature, he makes up for in skill. A top-line right wing for the Rangers, he is a consistent battler and one of the top-points leaders for the team – a definite asset to Team Europe. These are talented players but none, save Kopitar, are truly great.
Team Europe’s full offensive line up includes: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Philadelphia Flyers (France); Mikkel Boedker, Colorado Avalanche (Denmark); Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Germany); Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings (Slovakia); Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks (Denmark); Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks (Slovakia); Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Slovenia); Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota Wild (Switzerland); Frans Nielsen, Detroit Red Wings (Denmark); Tobias Rieder, Arizona Coyotes (Germany); Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings (Slovakia); Thomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings (Austria); Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers (Norway)
Can the Blue Liners Keep the Big Six at Bay?
Unfortunately, Team Europe’s defensive roster is even less impressive than its offense. The roster includes four veteran anchors in Zdeno Chara, Mark Streit, Adrej Sekera and Roman Josi. At 39 years old, Chara and Streit may be just a little long in the tooth to keep the Big Six’s power forwards at bay. Chara maintains a sharp hits and blocks average of 100 each and that heavy play will help Team Europe, while Streit, hopefully, will continue to average a half point per game. Other positives include Andrej Sekera (Edmonton Oilers) who adds speed and agility to the blue liners – qualities that helped him earn 30 points for the Oilers in the 2016 season. The great hope for Team Europe’s defense lies with Roman Josi (Nashville Predators). Josi, who NHL.com voted as one of the WCH’s top three defenseman, broke the Predators’ franchise record for points in a season by a defenseman with 14 goals and 47 assists (61 points). Josi is young, quick and eager to make his mark on international hockey.
Team Europe’s full defensive lineup includes: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (Slovakia); Christian Ehrhoff, UFA, (Germany); Roman Josi, Nashville Predators (Switzerland); Dennis Seidenberg, UFA, (Germany); Andrej Sekera, Edmonton Oilers (Slovakia); Luca Sbisa, Vancouver Canucks (Switzerland); Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers (Switzerland)
Promising Net Minders May Save the Day
Team Europe’s net minders are talented and promising. The original roster included Denmark’s Fredrik Andersen (Toronto Maple Leafs) and the New York Islander’s two goaltenders Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) and Thomas Greiss (Germany). Andersen and Halak were projected to grapple over the starting position, but Andersen was injured during the Olympic trials and is likely out of the WCH. Therefore, it appears that Halak or Greiss will get the start as they battle for the lead position on Team Europe, before taking that fight to New York in October.
Halak, starting goalie for the Isles since October 2014, achieved a 2.3 GAA and a .916 save percentage during his two-year tenure with the team. Unfortunately, he had a season ending injury in March. Back-up goalie Greiss seized the opportunity and stepped into the net without a hitch, achieving a 2.36 GAA and .925 save percentage in his 41 regular season games and .923 save percentage in 11 playoff games. While depth in the net is always welcome, Greiss’ success does provide a quandary about which keeper should start in the net. Regardless, both Halak and Greiss are highly capable goaltenders who will help Team Europe minimize the collateral damage that Big Six forwards are sure to incur during the tournament.
While it is too early to identify Andersen’s replacement possible prospects include: Philipp Grubauer (Germany), Reto Berra (Switzerland), Peter Budaj (Slovakia) and Kristers Gudlevskis (Latvia).
— Alex Nunn (@aj_ranger) September 2, 2016
While Team Europe possesses some significant talents it is doubtful that these underdogs can bridge the gap for deep runs in the WCH tournament.
By Stephanie Judge