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Team North America

Team North America has been as advertised

Young roster delivers at World Cup, deserves to advance

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The swell of noise ricocheted around the arena, the ooohs and aaahs timed to the dash of the skates and zip of the puck, as everyone lived and died by the minute, by the chance. The heart leapt, the skin developed goosebumps.

This was hockey, at some of its most brilliant, most entertaining, most delightful, brought to the inhabitants of Air Canada Centre by the young legs of the young guns and by the steady genius of Team Sweden.

But, all due respect to the Tre Kronor, this was Team North America's show.

Thirty seconds into a World Cup of Hockey 2016 preliminary round game on Wednesday, center Connor McDavid had already shown up all of Team Sweden with a slick zone entry, eventually leading to an Auston Matthews goal. Twenty-six seconds later, Johnny Gaudreau had earned a penalty shot after Erik Karlsson held him on a breakaway, one of three that Gaudreau would have in the first period. Thirty-nine seconds after that, Vincent Trocheck scored, all of this coming against Henrik Lundqvist and perhaps the best defense in the tournament.

"[Assistant coach] Dave Tippett has coached probably more games than probably the rest of our staff put together, and we have coaches that have been around for a while, but we became fans," Team North America coach Todd McLellan said. "I was standing on the bench, 'no, no, no,' and then 'go, go, go.' It was just going back and forth, the energy in the building and the passion with the fans, the players. I've seen a lot of excited players, but that bench was very excited. It was a lot of fun."

Video: NAT@SWE: MacKinnon shows off silky mitts on OT winner

This was fun, this 4-3 overtime win by Team North America. This was exciting. This was any hockey fan's dream - a dream that those same hockey fans should hope won't die on Thursday, a possibility that still looms.

If Team Finland defeats Team Russia on the final day of preliminary play, Team North America will advance. But if Team Russia wins, that would give it the tiebreaker against Team North America, given its head-to-head win in their game on Monday.

And that would be it. Perhaps forever.

It's unknown whether Team North America will have a future beyond this year's tournament, whether this composite team of players 23-and-younger from the United States and Canada will get another shot. It has at least one proponent, in McLellan. And, if the bunches of fans in black-and-orange North America jerseys strolling the streets of Toronto are an indication, many more.

"If I get a vote, I'd like to do it again," McLellan said. "We've proven that this young generation can play with the older ones. We've been very entertaining. I think if you surveyed 99 out of 100 fans, they'd probably say put them in again."

Video: Postgame: Team North America vs. Team Sweden

Some players too.

"Parts of these three games they've played have been unbelievable to watch," Team Sweden center Henrik Sedin said. "I think it shows it was the right thing to do to have them here. For sure, it's a lot more fun to watch these guys play than a lot of other teams that would have been here."

But it's not really about the future of this team. Not yet. Right now it's about the now, about how much fun they are to watch, about how little fun they are to play against.

"Those first two minutes there was probably the most embarrassing part that I've ever been a part of on a team," Karlsson said. "They did it all. They had three breakaways, a penalty shot, penalty call with them against us, goal in the net, two goals in the net. It gave us a kind of a slap in the face."

Let that sink in: Team Sweden, considered either the best team or the second-best team entering the World Cup, was embarrassed by a team of upstarts, a team that was questioned and doubted entering the tournament.

A team that, somehow, is still not into the next round. That's why Team North America will still be holding its breath, waiting it out, on Thursday.

That is its hope. It should be ours too after the team's performances in the first three games, including an awe-inspiring 3-on-3 overtime that ended when Nathan MacKinnon left Lundqvist down-and-out, prompting a raucous celebration. (MacKinnon later admitted, "Honestly when I scored, I thought we were in. We were talking, maybe we shouldn't have [celebrated] that hard.")

Video: NAT@SWE: MacKinnon on frantic overtime finish

Now, though, it's time to celebrate them, celebrate the way that their play celebrates hockey.

Which is why there will be a lot of fans of Team Finland, suddenly, on Thursday. Though they might not don Suomi jerseys or wear blue-and-white wigs in the stands, there are whole legions who are hoping against hope that Team Russia falls, hoping that Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk are the ones disappointed, not this Team North America, a team that has rocked the World Cup of Hockey and captured hearts from St. John's to Saskatoon, from Seattle to Sunrise.

Team North America is the reason to love this tournament, the best reason to watch. It has played the three most exciting games of the tournament, including a chaotically insane game against Team Russia, and a scintillating display against Team Sweden.

And now, having won two of its games and lost the third by a single goal, it would be a crime if this team's journey ended here.

Team North America deserves more hockey. Hockey deserves more Team North America.

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