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Team Europe

Team Europe's Cinderella story continues

Group surprises everyone with overtime win to reach World Cup final

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- As forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare skated off the ice, a raucous celebration behind him, he touched hands with Tomas Tatar, a celebration between two players who are not now and never have been NHL teammates, who are from different nations with different hockey histories, whose presence in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 seemed likely to be over days ago. Bellemare then turned and, caught by his broadcast microphone, yelled out to everyone and no one, "One more week, baby."

Team Europe had done it. It was in the World Cup final after a 3-2 win against Team Sweden in overtime at Air Canada Centre on Sunday. One more week for these players, a best-of-3 series against Team Canada to begin Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports), a place no one, other than Team Europe itself, ever thought it would be. 

No one was there at the start, just a few local Quebec City reporters and one national writer covering a team picked by many to finish last in the tournament. That idea was backed up in the first pretournament game, when Team Europe was smoked by Team North America, when a date with Team Canada in the final would have seemed ludicrous. As defenseman Andrej Sekera said, "Thank god they were exhibition games. First games together were pretty tough."

No longer. Now they will get a chance to go toe-to-toe with Team Canada, for a chance to win the whole thing.

"Anything is possible, right?" Sekera said. "No one gave us a chance to be in the final and we are here."

Video: EUR@SWE: Tatar capitalizes for overtime winner

This composite team featuring players from eight European nations, not including Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, had become a success story. And a success story that is not yet over, one with at least two more games to go.

"They are a great story," Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Shame on us if we don't take them seriously for what they've done to this point."

But, he said later, they're not just a great story. They're "a hell of a team."

And it's been a heck of a ride.

It nearly ended at the end of the third period, when Erik Karlsson's shot from just inside the blue line beat goaltender Jaroslav Halak. That was at 15:28 in the period, erasing the 2-1 lead that Team Europe had got with the first of Tomas Tatar's two goals, 12 seconds into the third period. A goal by Karlsson gave Team Sweden life, just in time to head to overtime.

But Team Europe, and Tatar, didn't need long. And, at 3:43 of the overtime, the puck was in the back of the net, behind goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and Team Europe was spilling out of its bench, gathering in a knot of players, singing the standard soccer goal song.

"Ole, ole, ole, ole," the players sang, as they jumped and jostled and bumped one another.

Video: EUR@SWE: Mic'd up Bellemare celebrates OT winner

Team Europe had made the final, a place that most of its players rarely, or ever, see, or even have a chance of seeing. Just one of the countries represented by Team Europe made it as far as the quarterfinals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia, and that was in a stunning performance by Slovenia.

By that point, Norway was out, and Austria, and Switzerland, and Slovakia. Germany hadn't even qualified, nor had France or Denmark.

"I went to a quarterfinal once in the World Championship and that's about it," Norwegian forward Mats Zuccarello said.

So is that part of the motivation for Team Europe?

"That, and that I don't think anyone wanted us here in the tournament and now we're in the finals," Zuccarello said. "So I think this is something we're really proud of and it's fun to be here, fun to be playing with these guys and have a chance going far in a tournament like this."

Having that chance. That, in the end, is what Team Europe is all about.

"Just so pleased that these peripheral countries in the world of hockey have had an opportunity to compete with the best in the world for the first time in their life," coach Ralph Krueger said. "That's not possible when these players show up alone at tournaments. They're forever fighting relegation in world tournaments. They're forever fighting just to get to Olympic Games, forget about competing for anything at them."

Team Europe has already gone far. But it is not done, unwilling to lie down and let Team Canada have what many have consider its birthright.

The players had started to believe, really believe, in themselves after the 3-0 win against Team USA in the first game of the preliminary round. The confidence built, the knowledge built, the connection built. The sense of themselves as rightful participants in this tournament built.

They are not ready to let this feeling go, not even in the face of Team Canada.

"We're enjoying every single moment of it," Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar said. "Everybody's saying that there's no future for this team, so you've got to live in the moment. We're doing that."

And now, with the win against Team Sweden, there are a whole bunch of moments left to enjoy. One more week of them, in fact.

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