The 2016 World Cup of Hockey is underway, featuring teams representing six nations as well as two hybrid teams – Team Europe and Team North America. After Team Europe shocked the hockey world and largely dominated the United States to begin tournament play, hopes are undoubtedly high that North America can follow suit and upset a few hockey powers en route to a semi-final berth.
Here are three things that need to happen for the young guns to have a strong tournament performance:
Matt Murray Has to Continue His Excellence
Murray had his coming-out party during the Stanley Cup playoffs, displaying cool nerves and impressive on-ice performances while leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup. One of two North American players with a Cup ring – the other being Brandon Saad – Murray’s goaltending will be crucial to his team’s survival in a group that includes strong offensive performers from Russia, Finland, and Sweden with names like Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, and the Sedins.
Aaron Ekblad Has to Lead the Way
There’s a running joke among the denizens of hockey Twitter that Ekblad is 40-years old. That’s partially a joke referring to his prominent beard, which betrays his youth, but it also refers to the fact that Ekblad doesn’t play like a young defenseman.
He faces the toughest opposition forwards while wearing a Florida Panthers jersey, and he usually succeeds in shutting them down. On a blueline that’s by definition extremely green and low on experience, and features many players that play on the second and third pairings on their clubs, Ekblad’s going to be extremely important for North America. If he can do what he does well throughout the tournament, North America has a fighting chance.
They’ll Need Scoring Depth
Johnny Gaudreau finished sixth in National Hockey League scoring last season, and he’s bound to get attention from the top defenders on other teams. The same goes for Connor McDavid, who lit it up with Edmonton before a mid-season injury. If North America is going to be able to out-gun their opposition, they’ll need to get scoring from everyone – not just the top guns. Players like Jonathan Drouin, J.T. Miller, and 2016 first overall selection Auston Matthews will need to take the heat off their team’s top offensive weapons by creating offense and spreading the attention around a bit.
In order to advance to the semi-finals, North America will need to win two of their three round-robin games. All three of these things will need to happen in order for this team of upstarts to snatch victories away from their more experienced, renowned opponents in Finland, Sweden, and Russia.