Friday, September 30, 2016

Can Team Canada be beaten? Yes, and here's how it could happen.

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey ended last night. You'll never guess who won.

Wait, of course you will. It was the same team that always wins, at least for the last decade or so.

Last night, Canada used a late third-period comeback to beat Team Europe 2-1, finishing off a two-game sweep of the final. That left Canada with a perfect 6-0-0 record for the tournament, and going back to the playoff round of the 2010 Olympics, Canada has now won each of the last three best-on-best tournaments, not to mention 16 straight games.

And so we appear to have an international dynasty on our hands. And while that's great news if you're a proud Canadian, it's not exactly a good thing for hockey fans in general. The sport has a long history of international tournaments providing some of its most memorable moments, from Paul Henderson to Dominik Hasek to Mario Lemieux to Tommy Salo. But those tournaments only matter if there's some suspense involved. Right now, Canada is the best and everyone knows it. If one team is completely unbeatable, then why should anyone bother to care about the next best-on-best event? Maybe it would be better for fans to just skip the international events and only worry about the games where we don't already know the ending.

This is a problem. And it's lead to some handwringing over whether Canada is just too good for these tournaments to be worth watching anymore. So today, let's try to push back on the idea of Team Canada as an unstoppable juggernaut. Hard as it may be to find today, there are small signs of optimism for everyone else. Here are eight reasons why the rest of the world should hold out some hope of beating Team Canada someday soon.

Reason No. 1: Team Europe almost beat them

Let's start with the most recent sign of optimism: Team Europe actually hung in there. For 55 minutes last night, they looked like they were even going to get a win.

That was a surprise. On paper, Team Europe wasn't even one of the tournament's stronger teams. A collection of players from the hockey world's less competitive nations, Team Europe wasn't expected to make the playoff round. But it did, upsetting Team USA along the way, and then it surprised Sweden in overtime. That set up a matchup that most of us assumed would be a Canadian cake walk.

But it wasn't. Team Europe played Canada tough in Tuesday's opener before dropping a 3-1 decision, and it was even better last night. And to be clear, this wasn't a case of a team getting badly outplayed but managing to keep the score close. Team Europe held the edge for long stretches, outshooting Canada and giving itself a real chance to win.

How did Team Europe do it? Mainly by being a well-coached team playing a disciplined and getting strong games from just about all of its key contributors. And sure, in the end, it still wasn't enough. But for a more talented roster, it might have been.

So it can be done. Now we just need to find someone who can do it.

Reason No. 2: Help is on the way

Your mileage may vary depending on which country you root for, but there's plenty of young talent that should be making waves in the NHL by 2020, and much of it isn't Canadian. Names like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jack Eichel and Leon Draisaitl are all set to break through. Johnny Gaudreau and Evgeny Kuznetsov already have, and they'll be even better next time around.

Two years is too small a sample to draw any big conclusions from, but it's worth remembering that the last few drafts have been top heavy with non-Canadians. The rest of the world has accounted for 15 of the 20 top ten picks from the last two drafts, with Canada having just five. The next wave of talent to hit the league may not be as Canadian as we're used to seeing.

(Of course, for this point to work, you have to ignore that one of those Canadian players is Connor McDavid, whose work on Team North America at the World Cup was so impressive that plenty of hockey people were openly wondering if he's already the best player in the league. He's going to be ridiculously good. Sorry, rest of the world. Barring an alien abduction, McDavid is going to ruin you for the next two decades.)

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

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