Play within the World Cup of Hockey Tournament is ramping up fast – perhaps faster than anyone expected – and fans are being treated to playoff style hockey in September’s pre-tournament exhibition games.
So far, the play has been real, intense and highly physical. “I can’t remember ever, anything being this intense this early” said Team USA forward T.J. Oshie after Monday’s practice at the Verizon Center. The teams, Team USA included, are practicing hard and fast, leaving even the most fit players winded. After all, in exhibition games with this level of energy and excitement, we know that the play will only get heavier and grittier in Toronto’s World Cup of Hockey (WCH) tournament games. The level of play we are witnessing is even more impressive considering it is coming from national teams who have only been practicing together for a few short weeks.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 12, 2016
Given anticipated level of play, players showed up to training camp ready for action. Team USA and Capitals defenseman John Carlson said, “Nowadays you’re training so hard anyways, that it’s not really like there’s free time, so whether you’re working hard here or hard at home it doesn’t really make a difference to me.”
A Tortorella practice… 50 min drills, then 2 laps before a break, this is the result… And they’re not done. pic.twitter.com/7Giwq1YgO1
— Jill Sorenson (@JillCSN) September 12, 2016
The players comprising the WCH teams are fantasy teams personified; even the players are in awe of the lineups. “The amount of talent on the ice is incredible and the people on the rosters in the exhibition games we’ve played so far – we’ve got franchise players playing on the fourth line, so it’s pretty deep rosters pretty high in talent” said Team USA’s Matt Niskanen. The quality of players, their physical conditioning and drive to win are pushing the WCH to new levels.
As Team USA looks to its third exhibition game today (Tuesday), they are looking to become stronger. “I think that we keep pushing each other higher and higher,” said Carlson. And Team USA has truly become a cohesive hockey machine in the few short weeks that they’ve been together, which Oshie attributes to good coaching: “The coaches have done a good job of finding chemistry with the players” Oshie said. “The coaches do a pretty good job of finding chemistry with us so far, by keeping everything fairly simple.” By allowing the team to find its own identify and niche, Team USA has become more unified and a cohesive unit. “I think that this group is closer than any in the past; even in the Olympics” said Oshie.
What’s refreshing to see is even the players get excited about the action and on ice. Even Niskanen admitted, “Fist pumping when Carly scored on Holts” during their second pre-tournament match up. “It’s kind of nice to see your fellow countrymen score on him [Holtby]; we’ll hold that over his head for the whole year probably.”
Nevertheless, the camaraderie the players feel stems a lot from their national pride. “Everybody here feels a great deal of pride wearing the colors and playing for something. It’s a huge opportunity that I don’t think anyone takes it lightly.” Said Niskanen, “You put your NHL buddies and friendships aside for a couple weeks and go after them and hopefully beat them”.
Team USA is looking forward to putting on a good show for D.C. fans as they take on Team Finland tonight at Verizon Center, before moving on to Toronto to prepare for the World Cup of Hockey Tournament. Team USA’s goal is to play fast and Oshie says fans should “look out for a little more nastiness and a little more physicality.”
By Stephanie Judge