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Team USA hopes it has right mix for World Cup

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

Kyle Palmieri and Cory Schneider prepping for Team USA run in World Cup of Hockey 2016. (Getty Images)

Coach John Tortorella didn't hesitate. Asked how Team USA needed to play to win the World Cup of Hockey 2016, he extended his right arm and set a tone on the first day of training camp at Nationwide Arena.

"We're going to play that way," he said.

Straight ahead. North-south hockey. If you don't have the puck, get it back. If you have it, get it down the ice as quickly as possible and get it to the net. Get in your opponents' faces and stay there.

This is not Team Canada, overflowing with talent and heavily favored to win the tournament on home ice at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. This is not Team Russia, especially strong up front, or Team Sweden, especially strong on defense.

This is Team USA, a mix of skill, grit and goaltending, partly by necessity and partly by design.

"I don't think it's any secret we're going to be a big, hard team to play against," defenseman Jack Johnson said. "We're going to be very physical. … We're going to try to make it a long night for a lot of teams."

General manager Dean Lombardi did not select the best 23 American players. He selected the 23 American players he felt would comprise the best team for this particular tournament.

He has taken heat for not selecting skilled players like forward Phil Kessel and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. (Kessel wouldn't have been able to play because of a hand injury in the end, but that doesn't change the philosophy.)

Team USA executives and coaches studied the potential rosters of other teams and the potential matchups, and they took into consideration that this tournament will be played on NHL ice under NHL rules in a short period of time.

Let's face it: To win the tournament, Team USA likely will have to defeat Team Canada, and it could not compete with Team Canada's skill and depth.

Team Canada lost forward Jamie Benn and replaced him with Logan Couture, who led the Stanley Cup Playoffs in scoring last season with 30 points in 24 games for the San Jose Sharks. Team Canada lost forward Jeff Carter and replaced him with Corey Perry, who has won a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player and two Olympic gold medals.

"Canada's got some of the best players in the world," Team USA forward Zach Parise said. "No question, a deep team. They keep losing these players, but they keep adding these other guys, and you're just like …"

He paused and laughed.

'"They're adding great players.'"

So what do you do? Try to defeat Team Canada at its own game? Try to go skill against skill?

"It's going to have to be pressure," Parise said. "We're going to have to pressure them all over the ice. … It's about creating those turnovers, making other teams' [defensemen] uncomfortable and pressuring them and creating chances that way."

If this tournament were being played on the larger international ice surface, Lombardi might have done things differently. But it's not. So Lombardi built a roster to play an NHL style.

And with less than two weeks of preparation and a maximum of two weeks of competition, Lombardi opted for players who could plug right into roles over players who would have to adapt to different roles than they're used to playing in the NHL.

"You look at every team that wins, and guys have roles," Team USA forward Max Pacioretty said. "It's going to be important for us to understand and know our roles early on and not have egos and make sure that we play to those strengths, and I think that's why the guys that were selected were selected, because they're guys who are willing to accept maybe different roles or do whatever it takes to help the team win. It a short tournament like this, that's what's important."

This team does have skill. The top line for the first practice featured Pacioretty on the left wing, Joe Pavelski at center and Patrick Kane on the right wing. Those three combined for 114 goals and 248 points in the NHL last season. With 46 goals and 106 points, Kane won the Art Ross Trophy as League scoring champion and the Hart Trophy. Plenty of others can play too.

But with players like Johnson and forwards Justin Abdelkader and Brandon Dubinsky -- not to mention U.S. mainstays like David Backes and Ryan Kesler, who are pains to play against -- the identity of this team is clear.

"We've got to play a certain way obviously," Abdelkader said. "The makeup of this team is that of a team that is going to be strong on the forecheck, hang on to pucks, a gritty-type American game, good goaltending, good defense. We're not going to try to go out there and score eight goals. If that happens, it happens. But we're going to play good defense and try to capitalize on our opportunities."


"Make no mistake about it: We're not going to spend a lot of time worrying about other teams how they play," Tortorella said. "We're going to play our game. We're going to try to inflict and put our will into a game and go about it that way. It's not going to be a convoluted message."

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