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Team North America

Team North America eliminated from World Cup

Coaches didn't tell players regulation victory Wednesday would have guaranteed trip to semifinals

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Would it have made a difference? We'll never know.

The fact is that when Nathan MacKinnon scored his scintillating, skillful, how'd-he-do-it overtime goal to win the final game of the preliminary round for Team North America against Team Sweden on Wednesday, he celebrated -- the team celebrated -- like they had clinched a spot in the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

They hadn't. And with the 3-0 win by Team Russia against Team Finland on Thursday at Air Canada Centre, that spot finally vanished. Team Russia is moving on. Team North America is done.

So, would it have mattered if the players had known that a regulation win would have put them into the semifinal round? Would the players have done anything differently? Would they have pushed harder after Patrik Berglund scored to tie the game, 1-1, with 6:50 remaining in the third period? Would they have erased all hesitation?

"No, I don't think so, no," Team North America captain Connor McDavid said. "We did everything we could. We played a good game. It was a great game. It's hard to keep a team like Sweden down. They obviously did a great job of battling back and that's the way it goes. We just put ourselves in an opportunity to still have a chance and that's all that matters."

There were no regrets on Thursday, at least before they knew their end had come.

Team North America coach Todd McLellan doubled down on his choice, unwilling to second-guess himself, unwilling to believe that if he had made a different choices, anything would have changed for his charges.

"I guess we could have gone [with] Connor out for 25 minutes instead of 22 and a half," he said, when asked, referring to added shifts for his captain and best player. "No. Those players knew on the bench that we were doing everything we could to win. And in turn, they were giving us as a coaching staff everything they could to win."

They were. They wanted this, composite team or not, one-and-done team or not. Team North America, a team comprised of players 23-and-younger from Canada and the United States, wanted to advance, wanted to continue to prove its worth, wanted what would have been an incredible Saturday night matchup with Team Canada.

But just as McLellan didn't want to tell them that they had to win in regulation to advance, the bigger issue for him seemed to be the corollary that he then would have also had to tell his team the minimum they would have to do to remain alive. And that was the issue.

McLellan and his staff had gone over every scenario, had prepared themselves to know what each outcome meant for their group of players. But as McLellan said, "We weren't prepared to give them the complete plan."

"If you give them the upper parameter, which means you've got to win to advance, the first question that comes out of their mouth is what if, and then you've got to give them the lower parameter, and the lower parameter in our mind was two goals," McLellan said. "We could be unsuccessful and give up a gap of two goals and still have a pretty good chance if things went our way.

"In our opinion, we would have slowed our team down because they would have had that in the back of their mind and we weren't built that way. We played every minute to win."

And Team North America did win. It just didn't win in regulation. And so, between not winning in regulation and seven lackluster minutes against Team Russia in their game on Monday, the most exciting team of the World Cup of Hockey has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

"If anybody has been watching us, you'd have to be underneath a rock for the last three weeks to [believe] that we didn't play all out the whole time," McLellan said. "It was all about winning. We didn't use the word safe, we didn't use the word careful.

"I have two boys at home, 17 and 21, and they don't have to be told to go out and win. It doesn't matter if they're having a race to tie their shoelaces, one wants to beat the other. That's how the young kids are. So they didn't have to be told that. And our group went out and played their hearts out."

They won everyone's hearts in the process.

They were aggressive. They were fast. They were skilled. They were unaware.

They ultimately didn't have all of the information. But in the end, did it matter?

"No matter what happens this afternoon, I think we can be proud of ourselves," McDavid said, before Team Russia won. "We can hold our heads high and know that we did almost everything we could do. … It's been so much fun. We don't really want it be over."

They weren't alone, whether they knew it or not.

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