QUEBEC CITY -- There was a sparse crowd at Videotron Center on Monday, and it was not just that the stands were empty at Team Europe's first practice for the World Cup of Hockey 2016. It also was that half of the team wasn't present.
With players still traveling to Quebec from Olympic qualifying, including a large contingent from Germany, Team Europe was limited to 10 skaters and two goaltenders for its initial foray. Unlike at other camps around the country and around the globe, there were no line combinations, no defense pairs.
Instead, coach Ralph Krueger and his staff ran through some drills and some instruction with the bodies they had: forwards Thomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Tomas Tatar and Nino Niederreiter; defensemen Zdeno Chara, Roman Josi, Mark Streit, Andrej Sekera and Luca Sbisa; and goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss.
But even with a late start, Krueger isn't daunted.
"As an example, [the 2014 Sochi Olympics], we had zero exhibition games before the tournament," he said. "With Switzerland, my 13 years … like a Mart Streit would usually show up like three days before the tournament because the NHL season went so long -- so the preparation you had for world tournaments, it's misleading to think that the guys always played together."
That means having three pretournament games, plus 10 days and seven full practices, is almost a luxury. As Krueger said, "My past, it's a lot."
He is thrilled with the time, even if Team Europe is arriving a bit later than most.
"Relative to my experience, this is enough time because these are all athletes that have come from countries that were outsiders, came as underdogs to training camps, were drafted later than they should have because they're not from the big countries and have fought their way into the National Hockey League," Krueger said. "There's so much character in our room.
"When I look at it just today, at the faces in there and the type of people that we have, I think it's going to be one of our biggest strengths, is the personality. Because of that character and because of that fight that they've had as underdogs in their countries and to make the National Hockey League, if we can tap into that as a group, there's a lot of power there that to me is exciting."
HE SAID IT: Josi wasn't going to bite. The Nashville Predators defenseman was peppered with questions about his new defense teammate, P.K. Subban, by the media in Quebec City, asked if he was going to be paired with Subban, asked which of the two players in the blockbuster trade of the summer - Subban or Shea Weber - is the better player.
"Who's the best?" Josi said. "I played with Shea for a long time and I see him every day, and I played P.K. only a couple times, one, two times a year, so I haven't played him that much yet. But they're both great defensemen, two of the best defensemen in the world, so I can't say."
He was reminded that only one of the two -- new Montreal Canadiens defenseman Weber -- will play in the World Cup, with Weber a member of Team Canada; Subban was not selected.
"Yeah, that's true," Josi said. "You've got to talk to Team Canada about that."
MEMORIES: Krueger opened his initial press conference with an appreciation for Quebec City. He coached in the city eight years ago, with Switzerland at the 2008 IIHF World Championship, won by Russia.
As he said, "[It was] one of the most enjoyable world tournaments I was a part of and felt really at home going for a jog up and down the stairs in the center of the city."
That wasn't his only memory of the tournament, or why exactly he regards the city as such a special place. His team had a day off at one point early in the tournament, and he asked them, with no pressure, whether they would like to do a walking tour of the city.
"Everybody said yes, and that's not typical hockey players," Krueger said. "We had French-speaking players from Switzerland and English- speaking, so we had different languages, and they did a three-hour walking tour before our team meal that night, which is very rare. I think we had a special connection to Quebec City before the tournament, we could tap into that. We made the quarterfinals here and actually had a quite successful tournament for Switzerland. We lost to the Russians in the quarterfinals, so that was fine because they went on to be world champion."