No room for error in competitive, compressed group stage

SHARE No room for error in competitive, compressed group stage
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Patrick Kane leads the United States into the World Cup on Saturday against the Czech Republic. (AP Photo)

TORONTO — After months of speculation about who would make each team, followed by months of second-guessing those choices, followed by training camps and a week of exhibition games, the World Cup of Hockey finally starts on Saturday.

And for some teams, it’ll be over awfully quick.

“You make one mistake or have one bad game, that could be maybe the end of the tournament for you,” American alternate captain Patrick Kane said.

The eight-team field is divided into two four-team groups. Each team will play the other three in its group over the course of six days, with only the top two in each group advancing to the semifinals. Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic and Europe are in Group A. Sweden, Russia, Finland and Team North America (Americans and Canadians 23 and younger) are in the incredibly competitive Group B.

Canada defenseman Drew Doughty acknowledged Friday that anything short of a championship for Canada, which has won the last two Olympic gold medals, would be a failure. But the United States — a scrappy, physical team built in coach John Tortorella’s style — is hoping to atone for its recent international disappointments.

“Being through the whole 2010 Olympics and 2014, and coming up short there, we know that, hey, it’s time right now to get the job done,” Kane said. “Who knows how many opportunities there will be for a lot of us in the future to play for Team USA? This group’s probably at its peak right now, this group that’s been together for the last six years. We want to make sure it’s our time to get it done.”

Having Kane, the league MVP and scoring champion, certainly helps.

“I’d go as far as to say our team has a good chance because Patrick Kane is in his prime,” Montreal forward Max Pacioretty said. “I feel like he’s the best player in the game. I feel like this tournament sets up perfectly for him. He’s in his prime, he just came off the best year of his career. A guy like that can change a game in one shift so I think for the rest of the team our identity is be hard to play against, make life difficult for them, but Kaner, let him do his thing, let him play offense. That’s what he does best. He’s the best in the world at it and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Crawford in

In a bit of a surprise, Corey Crawford will dress in Canada’s opener on Saturday against the Czech Republic, and back up Carey Price. Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, will be scratched. Crawford, who stopped all 10 shots he faced in his lone exhibition outing, wasn’t expecting to play much, if at all, once the tournament started. But he was soaking in his first Team Canada experience.

“I’m having a good time,” he said. “I’ve just got to stay ready. You never know. I try to get more work in practice, too. With three goalies, you don’t really see that much. Maybe a few extra drills after practice just to stay sharp.”

Young guns

No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews, of the hometown Maple Leafs, skated on a dream line with last year’s top pick, Connor McDavid, and Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele at Team North America’s practice on Friday. The young guns team opens Sunday night against Finland.

“I like it,” Matthews said. “Connor’s a special player, so to be able to play with him and Scheifele out there, I think we can definitely do some damage.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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