TORONTO - They're arguably the most interesting team at World Cup of Hockey 2016. Yes, there's Team Canada - the betting favourites. There's the high flying Team North America youngsters. There's also the many teams you've become accustomed to watching at international hockey tournaments.
Team Europe may be the most interesting one of them all.
It's not every day a team brings together players from many different countries, sticks them together and asks them to compete on a world stage. The dynamics of Team Europe and how they gel together has been fascinating.
Eight different countries, cultures and languages use the same dressing room and wear the same sweater, making this a truly unique bunch.
"It's great to be part of this tournament," said German forward Leon Draisaitl. "They decided to put this Team Europe together and for us, the guys from the smaller countries and non-traditional countries, it's great to be part of this tournament. I think that tells you there's good hockey being played in other countries as well."
Step one for Team Europe was get everyone to buy in, while motivating them to represent their home countries in different colours.
"Number one, to bring this group together, was very important for us," said Team Europe Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "I've repeatedly told people we've asked them to embrace their country flag on their arm. Sometimes it's the things you don't do that allows the players to feel comfortable and continuing to represent their countries - all eight countries they're representing - that's number one."
Second, Team Europe needed to find chemistry on the ice among players who haven't skated together as a unit in international competition before - a task made easier by championship-winning leaders on the roster.
"The place we need to get connected is on the ice," said Krueger. "We've worked as hard as possible to do that together. The players have been very engaged in our processes here over the 11 days and we feel that we're in a good place here today. We feel they've come together. They understand. We've got a clear identity of how we want to play and it has happened quite organically because of the leadership. That took care of itself, just plainly on the names we have, people with Stanley Cup rings in the last five, six years taking over the room and working with our coaching staff as another layer of coaches in the locker room and in their lines and in their pairs and in their power plays and penalty kills.
"That's been wonderful to watch that experience gel. For a lot of them, it might be the last time on this biggest stage to have an opportunity to do something special. We can feel the hunger for that."
As for off the ice, Team Europe says they're a tighter group than outsider observers would guess.
"It's actually been really good," said Draisaitl. "I know people from the outside always think it might be a little bit weird because there's so many countries coming together but it's been really good."
The team is rumoured to put together post-practice soccer matches - really sticking to their European roots - and they can often be found dining together with multiple countries, not just their own.
"We've really created spaces for them to have fun together and get to know each other better," said Krueger. "We've had some team meals where the players have come all that much closer. Yesterday we had another team meal where you could see all the nationalities blended. On the first day, everybody kind of stayed within their own languages and now you can feel the mingling going on."
The team got over the language barrier real quick - in fact, there never really was one.
"Everybody is friendly here," said Slovakian defenceman Andrej Sekera. "Everybody is speaking English. We agreed to that so that everybody understands. Off the ice, it doesn't matter. Whoever wants to go out with whoever. If you want to go out with the German guys, those guys will go out and speak English. It's just a regular team like in the U.S. or Canada."
As for what fans can expect from the on-ice product of group that combines Swiss, French, German, Danish, Slovak, Slovenian, Austrian and Norwegian players, Anze Kopitar sums it up bluntly.
"I don't think - and I mean this in a very positive way - that it's going to be the flashiest hockey out there," said Kopitar, who is representing Slovenia. "It's most likely going to be pretty boring and just plugging away and playing our game plan and our system. We've got a lot of guys with a lot of experience and we have to play smart, that's what it is. It's not going to be end-to-end action and it's just taking it step by step. We have to more the pucks out of our zone and create some chaos in their zone and we'll see what happens."
Team Europe will soon find out if their systems and simple play can overcome the skill and chemistry of the other teams in the tournament. But at least for them, there's no worries about how they'll mesh.
"We all get along well," said Sekera. "I would say we don't really care what country we're from."