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Team Europe's task is melding multinational group

by Dan Rosen

TORONTO -- The question that stumped the audience came from a Canadian wondering out loud about a team that a year from now will feature European players from as many as 10 nations for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

"Whose anthem do they play if they win the tournament?" Steven Stamkos said when discussing Team Europe, one of eight teams in the tournament but one of two that won't be representing a single nation. "They've gotta think about that one."

Even NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr admitted it was an interesting question posed by the Canadian forward and captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team Europe will be comprised of 23 players who can come from every European country except Russia, Finland, Sweden and Czech Republic, the four nations that already have a team scheduled to compete in the World Cup next year.

Team North America will include 23 players who are 23 years old or younger as of Oct. 1, 2016, from two federations (USA Hockey and Hockey Canada).

Team Europe will have by far a bigger melting pot of nationalities. Actually, it already does.

The president and team leader is Franz Reindl, the head of the German Ice Hockey Federation. The general manager is Miroslav Satan, a former NHL player and captain of the Slovakian national team. The coach is Ralph Krueger, a Canadian citizen who played in Germany; he is a former coach of the Swiss national team and Edmonton Oilers, and was a consultant for Canada in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The roster will likely be made up of players from Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzlerland, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Belarus and perhaps even France.

The challenge is trying to meld all these nationalities, with the backing of all the hockey federations involved, to try to create a team that will be competitive and have a chance to win in Toronto next year.

No other team in the tournament faces the challenges that Team Europe faces. That's what makes it so exciting for Satan, who accepted the position as his first job following his playing career.

"Right now, it's just a few of us and we have to create everything from scratch," Satan said. "There are a lot of issues we have to look at, like what do we put on our jerseys, how do we create an identity that these guys feel as a team to play and compete together to try to bring the best professional level to the tournament and entertain the fans here?"

Team Europe's delegation cleared up the first issue Wednesday by naming Krueger coach.

Krueger has been working in a completely different sport (soccer) since last year; he's chairman of the Southampton F.C. of the English Premier League. However, he led the Swiss national team in 12 international tournaments, including three Olympics, and was on Mike Babcock's staff for the Sochi Olympics.

Reindl said he went through a long list of candidates for the job to coach Team Europe, including some NHL coaches, who are all from North America, but settled on Krueger because of his resume.

"He can sell things to players; he can sell things to media," Reindl said. "I think he's a great motivator. That's what we need. The whole package makes him the ideal head coach of Team Europe."

Satan, who lives on Long Island, said his first task will be meeting Krueger in person for the first time. He played against Krueger's Swiss national team at several IIHF World Championship tournaments, but he won't meet him for another 2-3 weeks.

Once they have a plan mapped out, Satan said he'll have to find scouts around North America to help him track the potential players for Team Europe. Reindl said the roster will not be limited to NHL players, although players from outside the League are longshots at best.

"It comes down to 23 players, 20 plus three [goalies], but I think there will be at least eight or nine or 10 countries represented in this team," Reindl said. "So this has an impact to a huge population in Europe. I mean, there are 200 million, 250 [million], I don't know, inhabitants we're representing, and this is a unique new style. We're looking forward to it."

The players are too. They're also intrigued and curious.

Slovenian center Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings said he's not sure what it will be like building team chemistry in a short period of time with a group of players that you're mostly used to playing against and have no history of playing with in an international tournament.

"We're a part of Europe, and we're going to play for maybe a little bigger picture than for our country," Kopitar said. "And you know, of course, in one way you're still representing your country, and we're going to do it with pride."

Satan admitted that in a way Team Europe will be playing with house money as the underdog in this tournament because of the odd mashup of players from so many nations trying to come together as a competitive team in less than a month. He likes it that way.

"It's a great position to be in, not to have any expectations," Satan said. "We don't even know the points of view from Europe. Obviously, many countries are a little disappointed that they didn't get their own team, and now we have to play together. It's going to be a lot of countries and our issues will be how we quickly make a team, how we find an identity, how we make these guys who are playing against each other regularly in the NHL and in the Olympics and World Championships, how do we make them one team? That's going to probably be our challenge. Other teams will not have that."

Other teams also have one national anthem, or in the case of Team North America, two. Team Europe could have in the neighborhood of 10.

What anthem will be played if they win the tournament is an interesting question, but the answer will only matter if Reindl, Satan and Krueger can pull together to make history.

"We certainly are not going to come here and play for just exhibition and let the other team beat us," Kopitar said. "We're going to come here to compete."


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