TORONTO -- On a team that was already lightly regarded, it was notable that, to start the World Cup of Hockey 2016, the defense of Team Europe was even more lightly regarded than the team was as a whole. Boasting two unrestricted free agents among its seven defensemen, including one who had been bought out of his contract on July 1, it was easy to discount the group.
It was even easier after the first four periods of its pretournament schedule, when it had allowed nine goals to the electric Team North America. But then something clicked.
And so, with a semifinal matchup with Team Sweden ahead on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports), it's clear that what was supposed to be a weakness has not been as weak as advertised, keeping the team in the tournament and those two unrestricted free agents playing and showcasing their skills for possible NHL employers, an impressive feat in a tournament made up of all-star national teams.
For now, neither of those two unrestricted free agents, Dennis Seidenberg nor Christian Ehrhoff, knows what his future holds. But each knows his present, at least in the near term: Team Europe.
"It definitely is a chance [to showcase my game] because the injury last year, [NHL teams] obviously want to see how I move, how I play, if I'm still able to do what I can," said Seidenberg, 35, who added that he is not planning to take a professional tryout agreement, instead believing that he can secure a guaranteed contract for the season. "And so in that way, it is. It is a way to showcase myself and my game. And so far, so good."
Seidenberg has gotten the chance to play on the top defensive pairing, alongside Team Europe's best defenseman, Roman Josi. Ehrhoff, meanwhile, has formed the third pair with Mark Streit. Ehrhoff, in fact, leads the team's defense with two points and a plus-2 rating. Seidenberg has not recorded a point but is a plus-1.
The team has given up six goals in three games, including four in a loss to the consensus best team in the World Cup, Team Canada.
"I think I felt confident out there, I feel like we played well as a team," Seidenberg said of his play in the preliminary round. "Myself, I mean there's always room for improvement, but overall pretty well."
And he wouldn't mind if a general manager or two noticed.
The Boston Bruins told Seidenberg on July 1 that they would be buying out the final two years of his contract, worth $4 million per season. Which was why, when asked about his summer, Seidenberg quipped, "It started out well, until July 1. And then it was a couple days, a couple weeks, of holy [cow]."
He got on the ice slightly earlier than normal due to the Olympic qualifying process for his native Germany, but other than that did not change anything in his preparation. The only thing that was different was that he did not know where he would be after summer, something that has made life complicated for himself and his three kids (8, 5 and 4 years old), who are starting school in Boston, not knowing where their new home might be.
"It's not as much me, but it's about the kids, the family, just knowing where they're going," he said, adding that he isn't likely to leave them in Boston if he is playing elsewhere. "I don't think I could stand being away from them for too long. You only grow up once, so you try to be there as much as possible."
Wherever there is.
And he's not alone in feeling that he's getting an extra opportunity to demonstrate his play to potential employers.
"It's a great opportunity to show what we can do at a really high level, like this tournament is the best that has ever been there, probably," Ehrhoff, 34, said. "So for me, it's a great chance to show that I still belong and what I can do."
For now, it's all about Team Europe, about getting it past Team Sweden, about more games to play and to showcase themselves. The defense has already been better than expected for Team Europe, far better than it looked initially as it came together, as it connected, as it figured out how to play together starting against Team Sweden in the preliminary round.
"That was definitely an area where people thought we would run into trouble here, but it's been the collective defensive effort of the group that's really been the foundation of bringing us to the semifinals," coach Ralph Krueger said. "More than anything, the foundation has been [goalie Jaroslav Halak] and all of us competing. I think the way the forwards are working back, the back pressure that we have right now and the commitment of our forwards to play defense has helped the team be successful. Our defensemen are performing with a lot of poise -- it's kind of fun to watch them when you see the puck possession and the way we've been able to deal with pressure and release ourselves from pressure, you see the experience coming through."
Experience is something that Seidenberg and Ehrhoff certainly possess, with a combined 1,547 career regular-season NHL games. They're hoping that, when they return home after the tournament, whether that's after the semifinals or the final, their phones will be ringing, and that more NHL games are in their future.