(I’ve got a copy of The Hockey News’ World Cup preview magazine in front of me as I write this, so if you’ve got a problem with any of the stats I’m quoting, take it up with them.) Ok, perfect. While the hockey world tries to figure out if they give a shit or not about the World Cup of Hockey, I’m sitting here looking at the rosters and immediately coming to the conclusion that Team North America is the team to beat, and then also seeing quickly after that no one who matters agrees with me. So, now, I’m going to go over a few key World Cup facts and figures here, and inject a healthy dose of bias and starry-eyed opinionated commentary to try and pull you firmly onto the Team NA bandwagon with me. Many of our more naysaying readers may be saying nay right now to Team North America’s chances of winning this tournament, and I’m going tell them, in as many words, why they’re dead wrong. Ready? Let’s do it.
Team NA is not significantly smaller or lighter than the other teams
Here are the average heights and weights of all the teams competing in this tournament:
Canada: 6’2″, 207lbs
Sweden: 6’1″, 200lbs
Finland: 6’1″, 199lbs
USA: 6’2″, 210lbs (Jesus Christ, get out of here, Byfuglien, you’re screwing up the metrics)
Russia: 6’1″, 200lbs
Czech Republic: 6’1″, 205lbs
Europe: 6’1″, 204lbs
And finally, Team North America coming in at a very respectable average height and weight of 6’2″, 200lbs. The NA boys have an inch on 5/8 teams, and weigh the same as or more than three others. This is a non-issue at these averages.
Team NA is significantly younger than any other team
The average ages of the World Cup teams:
Czech Republic: 27.3
And again, we have Team North America coming in at a young, but respectable, 21.7 years old on average. This is an age range where most of the players have about two-to-three years in the NHL under their belts, so they’re not green rookies, and they are at the age where their speed and reflexes will almost certainly be at or near their career high.
Team NA is Faster Than Any Other Team, and It’s Not Close
McDavid, Eichel, Larkin, Gaudreau, Droin, MacKinnon… this team is obscenely fast. Tell me how the defensive monsters on the Canadian squad like Doughty and Weber, or the Americans’
Johnson or Byfuglien are supposed to exert their power over these kids if they’re too big and slow to even keep up with them? Which leads me to the next point…
Defensive Size and Grit Won’t Matter*
It’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t a typical NHL playoff series grind, and won’t even really be reminiscent of regular season games. This is a short tournament. There won’t be significant contact, certainly no dirty plays with an NHL season about to start and a KHL season already underway, and fighting is out of the question. So where exactly do the big, intimidating bodies of the other national teams have a significant advantage over the quickness and skill of the North Americans?
*(09/10 Post-pre-tourney CAN vs USA games update: … *Except* for the CAN/USA games, apparently. Jesus.)
Plus, the Team NA Defensive Lineup is Amazing in Its Own Right
Ekblad, Ghost Bear, Jones, Murray, Parayko, Rielly, and Trouba? Are you kidding me? You’re looking at the future of NHL defence right now, and these guys haven’t even entered the prime of their careers yet. They’re dynamic and intelligent, and they can eat minutes along with the best of ’em. I’m not even kind of worried about this aspect of the team.
Don’t Worry about Team NA’s Goaltending
I laugh really, really hard and obnoxiously every time someone says the goaltending of Team North America is going to be their achilles heel. Yes, I too am super concerned about rookie-playoff-record-15-game-winning-Stanley-Cup-champion Matt Murray and All-Star Game player and Ducks’ 23-year-old bona fide starter John Gibson.
Puh-lease. These guys are killer. Obviously they’re not a Carey Price or a Henrik Lundqvist yet (I spelled The King’s name right the first time, just so you know), but what does that matter in a tiny preseason tournament? We aren’t testing these guys over the course of a 60-start season.
That’s the root of the problem with most criticism levied at this squad: it presumes the need for a bigger sample size than is necessary or warranted for the format and length of the tournament. Is anyone arguing that, historically, experience and grit wins championships? Of course not. But for the glorified preseason exhibition series the World Cup is poised to be, traditional evaluative factors don’t apply. Team North America is going to skate circles around the competition. They’re going to score ridiculous goals and come up with whacky, inventive shit that will wins them games because they’re young and fast and skilled, and that’s what’s going to matter.
I wrote the bulk of this piece before the first pre-tournament games had taken place, so let me just acknowledge how wrong I was about the whole “no dirty plays, etc” bit. Clearly I underestimated the classlessness of some of the American squad (*cough*Kesler you still suck*cough*). So let me amend part of my statements to say that, for the majority of the teams, this isn’t going to be an all-out war of who can play the most boneheaded and outmoded brand of hockey.
I stand by my overall assessment that the North Americans are going to win it all based on their skill and speed, because they’re never going to have to play the Americans, because the Canadians will dispatch them before the group final round.
Where North America will win.
Because McJeez/Johnny Hockey/Eich is the most ridiculous first line I’ve ever heard of in my life and I refuse to stop fanboying. Goodnight, and may god have mercy on the rest of the world’s souls.