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Focus, fear key for Team Canada

Must play its game to defeat Team Europe in World Cup final

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TORONTO -- The expectation is the same, but the narrative here for Team Canada is much different from what it was in Vancouver six years ago and Sochi two years ago.

There, in those Olympic tournaments, Canada was the favorite and everybody thought it would win, as it did, but the United States in Vancouver and Sweden in Sochi were at least given a puncher's chance to knock out the giant in the respective gold-medal games.

But heading into the best-of-3 final at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, nobody outside of Team Europe's dressing room thinks or believes Team Canada can or will lose.

Game 1 of the final is at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"You still gotta play," Team Canada forward Joe Thornton said.

The beauty of sports is just that, you've got to play the games. We can talk about what we think will happen, but then you get things like the "Miracle on Ice" and it changes your perspective.

It would be ridiculous to compare Team Europe, a team of 23 players, mostly veterans with a combined seven Stanley Cup championship rings, to the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic hockey team that featured a bunch of college kids, some with NHL futures and some without.

That said, it would be fine to overuse the word miracle if Team Europe somehow pulls this off. Just look at Team Canada, look at that roster, the experience, the stars, the winners.

The fear of being on the wrong end of a miracle is what should drive Team Canada now. The players and coaches can't prepare for the final with the mindset that they're invincible. They need to prepare with some fear. Fear keeps you mentally focused and physically sharp. Fear is important.

"It's a best-on-best tournament for a reason, so we know we're playing against the best players from some of the best teams in the world," forward John Tavares said. "You've gotta earn it to win it. We don't focus on a lot of the talk, we have to go out on the ice and do our job."

Video: RUS@CAN: Tavares drags the puck for nice finish

And when Team Canada's players do their jobs, which they've done all tournament, they're legitimately right to believe they're unbeatable because they have been.

Team Canada, with coach Mike Babcock, has won 14 consecutive games in best-on-best tournaments dating back to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It has outscored the opposition 19-6 here, including 4-1 against Team Europe in the preliminary round.

"It's pretty easy to go out there and just do what you're told and do your job and know that if we play our way that things usually are going to go our way," forward Steven Stamkos said.

Team Canada found proof of that through a few minutes of adversity against Team Russia in the semifinal Saturday. It trailed for only 72 seconds, but the fact that Team Russia surged, that it scored two consecutive goals on Carey Price and it made Team Canada sweat was relevant.

No, Team Canada's players weren't afraid of Team Russia or of trailing 2-1 in the second period, but they knew they had to be sharp or the worst-case scenario would become possible, dare we say probable.

They made it impossible. They never changed and won 5-3.

"We get down but we're dominating the game and we know if we continue to do the right things that it's going to go in, and it does," Stamkos said. "That's the unique thing about having a group of stars on the team [that have] the willingness to buy in and play the right way to win. That's what we came here to do."

Nobody outside of Team Europe's players and coaches thinks Team Canada won't win the championship. But, then again, nobody here, even perhaps nobody inside Team Europe's dressing room, thought it would be Team Canada vs. Team Europe in the final.

"Yeah everybody expects us to win, but everybody thought Sweden was going to win too," Thornton said. "Everybody thought the [United] States was going to beat 'em."

That neither did should be enough to instill the fear of the impossible in Team Canada. Remember, the tournament began with Team Sweden and Team USA given the best chances to challenge Team Canada for the title. Team Europe defeated both and Team Czech Republic.

"They earned the right to be here," Babcock said. "There were lots of good teams in the tournament and they keep finding a way to get better and better. Everyone doubts them and they just keep winning. They look pretty good to me."

Team Europe also looks like a Cinderella story. Babcock doesn't really care about that, though.

"I don't spend much time thinking about Cinderella so it's not a big issue for me," Babcock said. "I get ready for [Anze] Kopitar, the D, their forwards, the players on their team. I pretty much leave Cinderella out of it."

Yeah, until the folk tale becomes reality.

Team Canada is supposed to stop that from happening. It's supposed to win. That's the narrative. It's different than in Vancouver and Sochi, where Team Canada was the favorite but not considered unbeatable.

Stay humble and somewhat fearful here and the result should be the same.

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