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World Cup

Team North America embracing underdog role

Coach Todd McLellan: 'Our job is to go there and upset' at World Cup of Hockey 2016

by Derek Van Diest / Correspondent

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan won't mind missing a portion of NHL training camp in September if it means taking Team North America on an extended run at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

McLellan will coach the team consisting of under-23 players from the United States and Canada at the tournament, which be held at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Among those on the Team North America roster are Oilers centers Connor McDavid, the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 selection in 2011.

"We're going to go with Connor and [Nugent-Hopkins] and a number of young stars to Toronto to try and win the World Cup," McLellan said after participating in a charity golf tournament in Edmonton on Wednesday. "If we're successful enough, we will be delayed [for training camp], but I know that camp will be in very good hands."

Video: WPG@BUF: Eichel beats Hutchinson for the lead

Despite the young talent on the Team North America roster, which also includes Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, the first pick of the 2016 draft; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, the second pick of the 2015 draft; and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, the Calder Trophy runner-up last season, McLellan's team will go into the tournament as an underdog against the teams with more established NHL veterans.

But it's a role McLellan gladly embraces. 

"Our job is to go there and upset," he said. "There are some other teams … I look at Canada, the U.S., those teams that are there, their job is they have to win. We need to upset, so sometimes that takes a little bit of pressure of some of the younger people."

Video: Picking Team North America's goalie

The Team North America players are taking a nothing-to-lose approach into the tournament.

"I think, definitely going in, we're kind of the underdogs playing against the top countries in the world," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It'll be a little strange, but at the same time I feel like we can really do some damage and win some games, and hopefully win the tournament."

Team North America is in Group B with Team Finland, Team Russia and Team Sweden in the preliminary round. Its first game will be against Team Finland on Sept. 18. It then will face Team Russia on Sept. 19 and Team Sweden on Sept. 21.

"It's going to be great, especially with a young group," Nugent-Hopkins, 23, said. "Any time you're representing Canada it's exciting, but with a young group like we have, it's going to be fun. There is going to be a lot of energy, a lot of youth on the team -- somehow I'll be one of the oldest guys on the team -- it's going to be a good experience."

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McLellan's Team North America coaching staff includes Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay Lightning), Peter DeBoer (San Jose Sharks), Dave Tippett (Arizona Coyotes) and Jay Woodcroft (Oilers), with Peter Chiarelli (Oilers) and Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks) serving as co-general managers.

The group has started its initial preparation for the tournament.

"It's getting close," McLellan said. "We're a month away from gathering. We've had a lot of phone calls, we've had coaches meetings where we've discussed the style of play. We've talked a little bit about lines and combinations. We'll see where everybody is health-wise heading in there.

"We'd like to keep some familiarity with players coming in from common teams. We now have a goaltender that has won the Stanley Cup as a rookie [Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins]. That was a question mark for us heading in, and we expect him just to pick up where he left off and have a couple of others there that are very capable of jumping in."

Team North America represents a new concept for the eight-team tournament, and there will be plenty of interest in how the team fares.

"I think people are excited about seeing it," McLellan said. "I think there is a lot of newness to it, obviously, the uniforms, the players coming together like that, they haven't played in that type of environment together in the past. So there is a lot of excitement around the team."

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