Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SPORTS
Nobody expected Team Europe to get as far as they did. Pockets of players had played together before, on their own international teams, on professional teams, but there was never much of a chemistry building period for this group. That didn’t matter, though, as they took a shorter warm-up camp than most, with a rougher start than all, and turned it into a Cinderella run all the way to the World Cup of Hockey Final.
There wasn’t much of a shot given to them there, either. Nobody thought they stood a chance against Canada, the odds-on favourite from start to finish. To the surprise of many, they put up a very good fight. Ultimately, though, the Red and White hockey giant proved just too powerful to break through, even for a game.
another angle of the Chara goal pic.twitter.com/45t3brFFyI
— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 30, 2016
Looking to at least bring the series to a winner-take-all, the Europeans came out even stronger than they did in the first matchup. They took five of the game’s first six shots, outshot (but didn’t out attempt) the Canadians in the first twenty, and to the shock of the crowd, actually scored the game’s first goal. Franz Neilsen carried the puck in with confidence and sent it back to a trailing Andrej Sekera, who saw the towering 6’9 Zdeno Chara sneak in on the left side. The puck was sent in his direction and made no mistake in beating Carey Price.
Nobody was overly concerned at this point, but fans did start to get a little nervous. After all, on the other side was a sharp-looking Jaroslav Halak, who has a history of going toe-to-toe with Price in nerve-wracking situations, even stealing the spotlight at times. For a while, it looked like we could see some of the same, especially when the Canadians failed to convert on four power plays that followed.
Their efforts, however, didn’t go to waste. With three and a half minutes to go, Europe captain Anze Kopitar was sent to the penalty box for holding, giving Canada a “go big or come back Saturday” opportunity. They had been close so many times before, but close wasn’t going to do them anything; something that Patrice Bergeron understood as he deflected a point shot from Brent Burns into the back of the net shortly after the powerplay began.
Those who thought it was time to exhale thought very incorrectly, though. Drew Doughty, who was in the midst of one of the most shockingly disappointing games he’s had in a while, capped off the struggle with a high sticking call that put the game at serious risk.
Fortunately for Doughty, Brad Marchand didn’t get the memo.
With less than a minute left, the recently-extended Boston Bruins winger shocked the Air Canada Centre with a heavy, heat-seeking wrist shot that beat a stunned Halak to give the Canadians a sudden lead. Attempts to sink an empty netter didn’t go incredibly well, but they did force the Europeans to ice the puck with three seconds to go.
From there, it was time to stand up and cheer. It didn’t quite have the same vibe as the Olympics; the players tossed their gloves off but took their time to celebrate in NHL-like fashion, and the laps with the trophy were with a bit less enthusiasm as the ones they’d take with the Stanley Cup. But it was still Canada winning a best-on-best on home ice, with a crowd who still had reason to be excited for their home and native land proving itself to be the top hockey nation.
Oddly enough, the outcome of this game wasn’t drastically different from our tongue-in-cheek right after buzzer post. Carey Price was great, the Bruins duo scored both the goals, Canada only took one more shot than the Europeans but out-attempted them by dozens, Chara was booed, and Tavares was great, minus a missed wide open net. The process was immensely more entertaining than we thought it would be though.
That’s because Europe really didn’t want to go down without a fight. Marian Hossa turned back the clock with an amazing 200-foot showing, Christian Ehrhoff and Mark Streit looked like they were playing in 2011, and Halak was lights out. The team pressed until the very end and followed Ralph Kreuger’s brainstorms to a T. They should be proud of the way that they played; for a hockey nation that didn’t exist before this tournament, and won’t exist now that it’s done, they certainly put the world on notice.
It just so happens that they had to face a behemoth that hasn’t lost a meaningful game since the Vancouver Olympics. It’ll be interesting to see when this run ends for Canada, but as it stands, the horizon is still a long ways away.