To no one’s surprise, Canada are World Cup champs, besting Team (non-Swedish, non-Russian, non-Finnish, non-Czech) Europe in two straight finals games to lift the…trophy? Ribbon? Decorative gourd? Probably a trophy, right? But it was at least a little tougher than everyone figured.
Give Europe a ton of credit. A surprise qualifier for the knockout rounds, let alone to get past Sweden in the semis, Europe kept these games against Canada close. The teams were either tied or separated by one goal for all but 24:16 of the two games, and Canada required a pair of goals in the last three minutes to clinch the Cup.
A first-period Zdeno Chara goal looked like it might hold up, but on a power play late in the third, Patrice Bergeron tipped a Brent Burns shot past Jaroslav Halak to tie things up:
Barely two minutes later, this time shorthanded, Jonathan Toews dropped a lovely puck for Brad Marchand, who beat Halak stick-side:
Despite my own disillusionment with this tournament, the Toronto crowd was pretty darned excited there. And why not! Canada is the best team in the world, by a country mile. They outscored opponents 24-8 over six games in the World Cup, and are now undefeated in best-on-best international competitions dating back to a group play loss to the U.S. at the 2010 Olympics. They’re two-time reigning Olympic champs, two-time reigning IIHF World champs, and now two-time reigning World Cup champs. This whole tournament was a celebration and a coronation for the home crowd.
And that’s fine. It was fun to watch quality hockey in September, with the only major casualties being Aaron Ekblad’s neck injury (he’s back at practice) and Marion Gaborik’s foot injury (he’s out eight weeks). It was a blast to watch the NHL’s future skate together for Team North America, and it was entirely satisfying to see John Tortorella and his philosophy go down in flames as Phil Kessel gloated.
I hope they do this again in four years, and I hope they expand the field. I’ll get excited about it, and I’ll watch, and I’ll root for Team USA. Just don’t try to tell me this is a valid replacement for NHL participation in the Olympics. The only international hockey tournament that really matters drops the puck 16 months from now in Pyeongchang.