Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Team North America have easily been the best thing about the World Cup of Hockey.
McDavid is going to look so good in a Leafs jersey playing alongside Matthews in a few years. Photo by Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Team North America is the NHL's greatest gimmick. A team of under-24-year-old prodigies from Canada and the United States conducted to take on the best hockey nations in the world. But Team North America has turned a lot of heads at the World Cup, and quickly proved to be far and away the most exciting part of the tournament and a reminder of how fun hockey can be.
The opening minute of North America's game against Sweden on Wednesday afternoon exemplified the team's speed and skill perfectly, as we witnessed Connor McDavid weave through four Swedes at blistering speed, and Auston Matthews deke around Victor Hedman from his knees before scoring his second goal in as many games. Unfortunately, even after defeating Sweden 4-3 in overtime, the kids of North America will be going home once the group stage concludes... unless a miracle occurs.
Going into Wednesday afternoon, Team North America had a 1-1 record after impressing fans with two strong showings in a 4-1 win over Finland, and a thrilling 4-3 loss to Russia. A regulation win against Sweden would have all but secured a semifinal berth for the young guns, but it was no easy task going up against a stacked Swedish team with the best defensive corps in the tournament. Just as they have all tournament, Team North America came out swinging.
"Wake the fuck up," Swedish defender Erik Karlsson told his teammates after finding themselves down 2-0 less than two minutes in. "Those first two minutes there was probably the most embarrassing part that I've ever been a part of on a team. They did it all. They had three breakaways, a penalty shot, penalty call with them against us, goal in the net, two goals in the net. It gave us a kind of a slap in the face."
Despite skating around the Swedes and creating all kinds of scoring chances—hammering 49 shots on King Henrik by the end of the game—Team Sweden tied things up 3-3 and overtime was needed to determine if Team North America would have any chance of advancing past the group stage. Although it would have been nice to see North America win in regulation, fans would have never gotten to see one of the most exciting overtime periods in recent memory. It was a back-and-forth affair featuring some of the best players in the game and two incredible goaltenders, and it ended like this:
Nathan MacKinnon played hero, going one-on-one with one of the best goalies in the world and came out on top with a beautiful backhand upstairs. And the young guns celebrated like they just won the Cup, thinking that they had advanced to the semifinal round of the tournament.
"Honestly when I scored, I thought we were in," said MacKinnon. "We were talking, maybe we shouldn't have [celebrated] that hard."
But maybe they should have celebrated that hard. Sure, the kids will be sent packing unless a miracle happens and last-place Finland defeats Russia in the final important game of the group stage on Thursday afternoon. But regardless of what happens, Team North America has so far been the best part of the World Cup and provided some memorable hockey in an otherwise forgettable group stage. The kids proved that even professional hockey can be fun, and we may never get to see a team with this level of speed and skill again.
And, hey, if a miracle does happen and Finland wins on Thursday, fans will be treated to a semifinal showdown between Canada—the World Cup favourites—and North America, the fan favourite of the tournament. That game alone would make the World Cup of Hockey unforgettable.
[Update: Team North America was eliminated after Russia beat Finland 3-0. Damn was that team fun, though.]
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