Few had Team Europe reaching the semifinal round of the World Cup of Hockey. Fewer have them getting past Sweden to earn the right to play in the best-of-three final against Canada.
So it’s nothing new for Europe.
There’s a lot that isn’t new for Europe. It’s a veteran group that’s been through it all – world championships, Stanley Cup playoffs, Olympics, you name it. Skill, speed, and goaltending go a long way in short tournament. Experience is next down on the list.
Europe is the oldest team in this tournament, with an average age north of 30. But the team combines for 1,045 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience, 841 games of international experience, and have made a combined 29 Olympic appearances.
The roster is well-constructed. Strong down the middle, led by all-world pivot Anze Kopitar and his monster minutes. Fran Nielsen has been one of the best players in this tournament. Leon Draisaitl leads the youth movement on the roster, and has been great in his own right; he scored the winner in overtime against the Czech Republic, and his goal in the second period of Euorpe’s 3-0 win against Team USA was a tally the Yanks never recovered from.
Mats Zuccarello, Thomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik, and Marian Hossa have been money from the wings. Roman Josi might be among the five best defensemen in the world. Zdeno Chara has been used perfectly in the supporting case role on the blue line.
Jaroslav Halak? Yeah, he’s pretty good. Best known for taking an unheralded Montreal team in 2010 and carrying it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, he’s doing it again, albeit with a better European squad. His .946 save percentage in the round robin was bested only by Canada’s Carey Price (.948) among goalies who played all three games in group play, while facing 14 more shots than Price saw. His 111 shots faced was the most for any netminder in the opening round.
Of course there’s more to this club than just Halak. Which is why they can – and will – pull the upset on the Swedes.
Just because you have a few grey hairs, doesn’t mean you’re over the hill. And these guys have all been here before.
How Europe wins: Just doing everything well, as they’ve done throughout this tournament. While not the fastest, strongest, or biggest, this is a well-assembled team. They’re built from the net out, they’re well-coached. It starts and ends with ace pivot Anze Kopitar, one of the world’s best when it comes to play in all three zones.
How Sweden wins: Open up the ice sheet. When Sweden does that, plays fast-pace, moves the puck, nobody in the world beats this team. The defensemen are best when the possession is in their control, and jumping into the rush and making plays with their sticks.