TORONTO — This is the team John Tortorella believed he needed to succeed in the World Cup. A team in which “grit” and “jam” were valued as much, if not more, than talent. A physical team that was hard to play against. In a game that’s increasingly being dominated by speed and skill, Team USA brought a throwback team to Toronto for the World Cup of Hockey.
And they promptly got thrown back.
Team Europe opened the World Cup with an emphatic upset, beating the Americans 3-0 and pushing them to the brink in the compressed, three-game group stage. The United States — which failed to medal in the Sochi Olympics — now likely has to defeat the heavily favored Canadians on Tuesday to have any hope of advancing to the semifinals.
Team Europe, a patchwork roster comprising eight nationalities, thrown together because their nations weren’t deep enough to field their own teams, was defiant entering the game, with coach Ralph Krueger saying, “We’re ready to look America in the eyes.” His veteran players, 16 of whom had Olympic experience and 11 of whom have been in the NHL at least 10 years, were just as confident.
“I don’t know if I feel like an underdog,” said Frans Nielsen, who set up Marian Gaborik’s goal early in the first period. “I feel like we have a good team, and we all believe in here that we can beat them. But for sure, no question, they’re probably the favorites in most people’s eyes. But there’s not going to be any easy games in this tournament, I believe.”
Tortorella didn’t do himself any favors by scratching the versatile, physical and productive Dustin Byfuglien. And Patrick Kane, the reigning leave MVP and scoring champion, played a mere four minutes and 45 seconds in the first period — eighth among American forwards. By the time the sluggish Americans picked up the pace and started hitting, the game got out of hand. Kane, trying to make something happen in the offensive zone, wheeled around the blue line and had his pocket picked, leading to a 2-on-0 and a Leon Draisaitl goal the other way.
After the Americans had a James van Riemsdyk chest-bump goal disallowed for “intentionally” directing the puck in with his body, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made it 3-0 on a deflection late in the second period — just Europe’s ninth shot of the game.
The United States had plenty of chances in the third, including two late power plays, but came up empty, as Jaroslav Halak made 35 saves.