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Practice Report

Team Europe's experience could fuel upset

Veteran players know what it takes to defeat Team Canada in World Cup final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO - When defenseman Mark Streit looks back on Switzerland's 2-0 victory against Canada in the 2006 Torino Olympics, he acknowledges, "Once in a 100 years you pull a win out like that."

With its collection of players from eight countries, Team Europe won't need as big of a miracle against Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 final, but it is a heavy underdog in the best-of-3 series that begins at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It's really exciting," Streit said Monday. "The stage doesn't get bigger than here. It's been a great tournament for us. We've surprised a lot of people, but we're a resilient group and we want to win hockey games. I think we've been better every game, we grew as a team and now there's a huge challenge in front of us."

One of the narratives for Team Europe throughout the World Cup has been that it's a team of players from countries that wouldn't have the ability to compete at this level individually. The eight countries represented - Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, Denmark, France, Norway and Slovenia - are a combined 1-15-1 in 17 World Cup of Hockey/Canada Cup games.

But, the narrative isn't completely accurate.

Team Europe has players who have faced Canada in major international tournaments with their countries and won. Streit is one of them.

Video: EUR@SWE: Kopitar discusses spirited 3-2 OT win

The 38-year-old had an assist when Switzerland stunned Canada in the preliminary round of the Torino Games. That team was coached by Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger.

"Canada had kind of a big team, a lot of big guys out there, and I think they underestimated the big [international] hockey rink a little," Streit said. "It was one of those games for Swiss hockey. … We played really well defensively and I think our goaltending was outstanding, too."

The countries met again, this time on an NHL-size rink, at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and Switzerland almost pulled off another upset, rallying from a two-goal deficit to force overtime before losing 3-2 in a shootout.

"I remember we were down by two and it was one of those things where you had the feeling, 'This game could get into a blowout' and it didn't," Streit said. "We stuck with the game plan and played well defensively. Then, we scored a goal and all the sudden it felt like Canada was a little bit on their heels and we tied it up and went to OT. Unfortunately, we lost in a shootout, but they're a [heck] of a hockey team, a lot skill.

"But, we have a really good hockey team, too, a lot of skill and a lot of experience. We just have to play the right way and have a good start and be patient."

Unlike the Olympics and the World Cup, the World Championship is not a best-on-best tournament, but Canada usually ices a team stocked with NHL stars. That was the case in 2012 in Helsinki, Finland, when Slovakia defeated Canada 4-3 in the World Championship quarterfinals with a team that included Zdeno Chara, Andrej Sekera and Tomas Tatar from Team Europe.

Video: EUR@SWE: Tatar capitalizes for overtime winner

Canada's team included Jay Bouwmeester, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, John Tavares and Ryan O'Reilly, who are at the World Cup with Team Canada, plus Duncan Keith and Jamie Benn, who pulled out of the World Cup because of injuries.

"It's the same kind of scenario, the underdog against the favorite and we managed to beat them somehow and we moved on to the semifinals," Sekera said.

The countries had also met two years earlier in the semifinals of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Slovakia hung tough with Canada before losing 3-2.

Jaroslav Halak, who is Team Europe's No. 1 goaltender, made 25 saves in the loss. Chara, Sekera, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik, who is out of the World Cup final because of a lower-body injury, from Team Europe also played for Slovakia in that game.

"There are guys (at the World Cup) who were on the team, so they will remember it and I'm sure they will share their experience," said Team Europe general manager Miroslav Satan, who played for Slovakia in the 2010 Olympics. "It was a very close game, two deflections that got Canada through. We were very similar. We had an older team, I think the oldest team in the Olympic tournament in Vancouver. We are the oldest team [in the World Cup], so it's very similar to that tournament."

The significant difference is that Team Europe had a much bigger pool of NHL talent to choose from when putting together its roster than Switzerland or Slovakia had in those tournaments. It's hoping that depth and those players' experiences will put it over the top against Team Canada.

"Our coaching staff and everybody has been in this position of underdog for most of the time in international tournaments with their teams," Satan said. "So, now, the best players from these different federations are combined into one team and let's see what they can do together."

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