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Team Canada too deep, talented

Team Europe will have its hands full at World Cup final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TORONTO -- Team Canada is not facing Team Europe in the final of the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Team Canada is facing Team Canada.

That is no disrespect to Team Europe, the team of Europeans from outside the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. The NHL and the NHL Players' Association created Team Europe to include more of the best players in the world and raise the competitiveness of the tournament, and it has been a success.

Team Europe upset Team Sweden 3-2 in overtime in the semifinals at Air Canada Centre on Sunday, and so there will be no rematch of the gold-medal game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics when the best-of-3 final begins here on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"Shame on us if we don't take them serious for what they've done to this point," Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Now I think everyone's seeing they're a [heck] of a team and not just a good story."

Thing is, Team Canada is a more than a heck of a team. It is a historic team. Including the gold medals at the past two Olympics, it has won 14 consecutive games in best-on-best tournaments. It has trailed for a grand total of 2 minutes, 41 seconds of that time.

The opponent wouldn't have mattered -- Team Europe, Team Sweden, Team You Name It -- because the challenge for Team Canada would have been the same: playing its game up to its potential.

If Team Canada does that, the odds of an upset in a single game are long enough. Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger was careful not to show too much respect Sunday but said before the tournament "it'll take a magical day, it'll take a world-class goaltending performance, it'll take something very, very special" to defeat Team Canada.

What are the odds of that happening twice in three games?

"You're competing against the opposition, but you're trying to get the most you possibly can out of yourself," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "To me, being process-orientated anyway, you're going to do that. In saying that, we'll dial in very closely on the nuances of their team and how they do things and get our team prepared the best we possibly can. But in the end, it's going to be about us."

Video: Mike Babcock addresses the media

Much will be made of the relationship between Babcock and Krueger, and rightfully so. They have known each other for more than a decade. Babcock hired Krueger as a consultant for Canada before the Sochi Olympics, because Krueger had extensive experience in international hockey and could help him prepare for the style on the larger ice sheet.

Krueger was part of meetings. He listened to the executives and coaches talk about strategy for smaller ice so they could outline differences. Expect Team Europe to keep doing what it has been doing, playing patiently, clogging the middle of the ice and waiting for opportunities, with a few tweaks specific to Team Canada.

"Certainly he's fully aware of how Mike operates," Armstrong said. "But ultimately, coaching is very important, but the players on the ice get the job done or they don't get the job done."

No team can match the talent and depth of Team Canada. Babcock rolls four forward lines and three defense pairings, dictating a high-tempo pace, creating matchup problems and wearing teams down. He wants to pressure all over the ice to get the puck as quickly as possible and to possess it as much as possible. If all else fails, he has an excellent safety valve in goaltender Carey Price.

But that's not all. He has a core of players who have been with him before -- eight who played in Vancouver, 13 who played in Sochi - and they set the example for the rest. Team Canada does not have a history of overlooking teams, getting frustrated when the puck doesn't go in or getting nervous when the score is tight, so it seems unlikely to overlook Team Europe, get frustrated if goaltender Jaroslav Halak is playing well or get nervous if it isn't winning, let alone winning big. It has been a machine; it just needs to keep running.

In Sochi, Canada did not overlook countries that are so small they have players on Team Europe for this tournament. Canada defeated Norway and Austria in group play by a combined score of 9-1, outshooting them by a combined 84-43. It defeated Latvia 2-1 in the quarterfinals, staying patient with the game tied 1-1 deep into the third period. It outshot Latvia 57-16.

In this tournament, Team Canada defeated Team Czech Republic 6-0, Team USA 4-2 and Team Europe 4-1 in the preliminary round. It faced Team Europe on the second night of a back-to-back while Team Europe had a day of rest. It outshot Team Europe 46-20.

"Frustration's a waste of time, so let's put that aside," Babcock said. "[Team Europe is] going to make you work and earn your way. I don't think anybody [who] gets to a final in anything worth winning doesn't expect to have to work to get that done, and so we'll try to be as workmanlike as we possibly can and go about our business. …

"I just think they know what's at stake here. At stake's an opportunity. You don't get these opportunities very often. You'd like to make good on your opportunity."

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