TORONTO — What exactly is Team USA coach John Tortorella thinking by saddling Patrick Kane with an agitator such as Justin Abdelkader instead of, say, a scorer such as Max Pacioretty or Zach Parise?
“There isn’t any thinking,” Tortorella said. “You’re overthinking it.”
Still, the Americans can’t beat Canada on Tuesday on grit and facewashes alone. They need goals, and didn’t get any against the Czech Republic in the World Cup opener on Saturday. Yet Tortorella said Monday that he needs to get more ice time for agitator Justin Abdelkader, skating him with Kane and Derek Stepan. That said, Tortorella acknowledged he needs to get Kane on the ice as much as possible. Kane played just 4:45 in the first period against the Czechs, eighth among U.S. forwards. That obviously can’t happen again.
“I’m going to bounce him around, and he could be on a lot of different lines,” Tortorella said. “It’s a tough tournament to get your guys the ice time that they’re used to. I’ve got to pick certain guys in my lineup [and] find them ice time, no matter what. And Kaner’s one of those guys.”
Kane, who put the onus on himself to jumpstart the American offense, is ready for anything.
“I mean, we lost the game, so you think there’s going to be some changes, naturally,” Kane said. “[You] just have to learn from it, wipe the slate clean, come into the next game full of confidence and play the way you know you can.”
The Team North America concept — a squad composed of the best players, 23 and under, from Canada and the United States, was met with skepticism when the World Cup was announced. But after their impressive — and incredibly fast — 4-1 victory over Finland on Monday, nobody was laughing. The kids can play.
“I actually had a question coming into the rink if I thought our team was cocky, because they said we’ve been kind of pumping our own tires,” center Connor McDavid said. “But I think we were just believing in ourselves. Generally I think everyone believed in each other and that we could do something here.”
Players such as McDavid, Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau are dominating the league at an early age, and Maple Leafs top pick Auston Matthews looks like the real deal, too. North America coach Todd McLellan said young players are entering the league with more confidence than ever.
“I think the courage that young people have today is a little different,” said McLellan, who coaches McDavid in Edmonton. “They’re breaking down the old-school barriers, if you will. They aren’t quite as respectful of the elder player — I mean that the right way, don’t take that the wrong way. They respect the game and the older players in the game, but they have a little more courage to go out and play against them. Where that came from, I don’t know, but I sense that. They [also] have courage to make some riskier plays in the game. Maybe the game’s getting so young that we have to put them back out as coaches when they make those mistakes, and they feel that, they feel a little more confident.”
Team Europe continued to be the surprise of the tournament, beating the Czech Republic 3-2 on Leon Draisaitl’s overtime goal on Monday. There’s been a lot of talk of how quickly the team has bonded — coach Ralph Krueger said he’s never had a team “buy-in” so completely so quickly — but Marian Hossa said he’s not surprised that the patchwork team of eight nationalities has performed so well on the ice.
“Everybody’s a professional here,” Hossa said. “As soon as the puck drops, everybody knows what to do.”
With two wins in two games, Europe pushed the Americans to the brink and will face Canada next. Krueger noted Europe was a 33-to-1 longshot in las Vegas to win the World Cup. Can the Europeans do it?
“The U.S. won the 1980 Olympics, didn’t they?” Norway’s Mats Zuccarello told reporters. “Miracles can happen.”