Cam Tucker

John Tortorella
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Team USA will mix physical Torts hockey with speed, skill at World Cup

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WASHINGTON (AP) John Tortorella stood in the middle of the ice and bellowed at the top of his lungs: “Too slow! We’re too slow. Move the puck and skate.”

Tortorella was imploring Team USA to practice the way he wants them to play at the World Cup of Hockey. The U.S. was built to be big, strong and physical in hopes of beating up a favorite like, say Canada. But to win the tournament, the Americans will need to mix speed, skill and scoring with the old-school Tortorella hockey principles of grinding it out and blocking shots.

The team’s identity is in-your-face aggressive, while NHL MVP Patrick Kane and talented winger Zach Parise and others will bring the flash and flair as the Americans attempt to avenge a disappointing finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“I think a big part of our team and our makeup is our willingness and our physicality, but we also have some skill,” Tortorella said. “There’s going to be some fast teams here and we do have speed. I think people have kind of got locked in because the way we’ve gone with our team, yeah, we have some grind to it, but we still have a very quick hockey club here and that has to play into it.”

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Tortorella earned acclaim in 2004 when he coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup with the mantra of “safe is death.” In subsequent stops with the New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and now the Columbus Blue Jackets, the firebrand coach has tried to win by clogging up the middle and demanding players sacrifice their bodies to get in front of pucks.

In a best-on-best tournament with star players, Tortorella still wants a buy-in, a commitment to team hockey. The U.S. goal is to be difficult to play against by dictating tempo up the ice and cashing in on the scoring ability of Kane, Pavelski, Max Pacioretty and captain Joe Pavelski.

Pavelski believes playing on NHL-size ice in Toronto benefits the U.S., which could get lost on the outside of a wider international rink. It also makes speed imperative.

“You can’t just play a gritty game,” said Kane, the Hart Trophy winner with a league-best 106 points last season. “With the team in here, the players we have, we want to play a little bit more a physical brand and make it harder on teams to have the puck and when they don’t have it, keep it from them and make it harder to get it back. We feel we have all those ingredients in here.”

U.S. general manager Dean Lombardi didn’t want to make an all-star team, either. He wanted to recapture the magic of the 1996 World Cup champions, who beat Canada to win that tournament 20 years ago. He chose gritty players like Detroit Red Wings winger Justin Abdelkader at the expense of better scorers.

Like legendary coach Herb Brooks said at the 1980 Olympics, the U.S. doesn’t have enough talent to win on talent alone. But it has more than most NHL teams, which presents a challenge on how to handle a group of stars.

Tortorella has to “manage how much rope he gives those guys,” said forward Brandon Dubinsky, who has played for him in New York and Columbus. “Kaner’s not going to play (Tortorella’s) type of crash-and-bang game, and he goes out and plays 100 points a year. You’ve just got to let that guy play. … It’s just finding a balance but at the same time trying to have an identity as a whole of guys that are just going to go out there and grind away.”

Even if Jonathan Quick, who will start in goal in the opening game Saturday against Team Europe, is at his best, the Americans need to produce goals. They’ll look to Kane, Parise, Pavelski and Sochi shootout hero T.J Oshie for that but also muck and grind and try to dredge up offense.

“There’s a time and a place for all of that and establishing ourselves early in games of our physical presence and getting in on the forecheck and our territorial game,” center David Backes said. “Once we do that, you can let the skill take place when we’re in the zone and occupying for extended periods of time.”

Team Canada comes back to beat rival Russia in OT

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13:  Carey Price #31 of Canada makes a save against Norway during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group B game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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A little three-on-three overtime between hockey rivals Canada and Russia?

Sure. Why not?

Team Canada will go into the World Cup of Hockey with a 3-2 overtime win over Russia, with Ryan Getzlaf beating Sergei Bobrovsky five-hole on a breakaway thanks to a stretch pass from Brent Burns, as the two teams went back-and-forth trading chances with the open ice.

Canada goes into the event with back-to-back wins in pre-tournament competition. Again, they dominated in shots, forcing Bobrovsky to make 45 saves. He was busy. And that was despite the fact Canada was short handed seven times against a dangerous Russian team.

When the competition does officially get under way, Canada will have to be more disciplined. With a lineup involving Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Russians would click on the power play Wednesday.

Ovechkin, from his favorite spot, on the left side ready for the one-timer, blasted a puck past Carey Price, getting Russia on the board in the third period.

Russia took the lead less than four minutes later on a goal from Artemi Panarin, but John Tavares scored to tie the game and send it to overtime.

For Canada, there are two more takeaways: Price, who is playing again for the first time since injuries disrupted his 2015-16 season, was good, making 24 saves. That should bode well for the Canadians.

And the line of Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron could be a nasty trio for the opposition to face as this tournament continues.  Crosby set up Bergeron for that beauty backhand goal in the first period.

Team Europe responds with win over Sweden, as Draisaitl’s hat trick leads the way

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 4: Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on during a game against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 4, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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For two games against Team North America, the idea of a Team Europe at this year’s World Cup may not have seemed like it would work well.

With a roster consisting of players from eight different countries, Team Europe couldn’t handle the pace the younger Team North America played at in the pre-tournament opener. The result was a 4-0 loss. The two teams met again three days later and again Team North America lit it up with a 7-4 victory.

But after looking to be in serious trouble through the first two games, Team Europe regrouped Wednesday with a 6-2 victory over Sweden, one of the teams that could potentially go all the way in this tournament.

It helped that 20-year-old center Leon Draisaitl of Germany — coming off a very impressive sophomore campaign with the Oilers — had a hat trick.

His second goal, in particular, was a thing of beauty:

Jaroslav Halak, who appears to be the starter for Team Europe when the tournament officially gets underway, made 34 saves for the win. In such a short tournament, a hot goalie may be able to provide a potential upset, especially in a one-game, winner-moves-on scenario.

Perhaps this victory can give Team Europe a little jolt of confidence heading into the tournament.

They find themselves in Group A, with Team Canada, Team USA and the Czech Republic, who held on to defeat North America earlier in the day.

Daly: NHL adding more concussion spotters this season

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WASHINGTON (AP) The NHL is revamping its concussion monitoring system for the upcoming season.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says the league will have four concussion spotters watching all games from a centralized location in either Toronto or New York, as well as spotters at each game to check for visible symptoms. Those spotters will have the authority to have players removed from games.

Previously, there had been team-affiliated concussion spotters in each arena and they could recommend but not require players be removed from a game.

Daly says the new concussion policy goes into effect for the eight-team World Cup of Hockey, which begins Saturday in Toronto, and that the NHL will release more details closer to the start of the regular season.

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Czechs slow down high-flying Team North America

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14: Tomas Plekanec #14 of Czech Republic looks on against Latvia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group C game on day seven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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After scoring at a healthy rate in two pre-tournament games against Team Europe, the speedy Team North American squad ran into a pair of hot goalies when facing the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

It started with a 25-save performance through 30 minutes for Michal Neuvirth and finished with 19 saves from Petr Mrazek, who came off the bench for the second half of the game. 

Despite a third-period comeback from the young guns, who dominated possession and the shot clock with 44 shots on goal, the Czech Republic scored a 3-2 win thanks to a late goal from Tomas Plekanec.

Parked at the side of the net, Plekanec re-directed a pass out front, beating goalie Connor Hellebuyck from a difficult angle. The goal came just 53 seconds after Auston Matthews tied the game with his first goal of the pre-tournament.

It’s also a goal Hellebuyck would certainly want back, but the Czechs will take it in their first game on North American soil since pre-tournament play began last week.

The Czechs will now enter the tournament with back-to-back wins.

Their games certainly haven’t been pretty at times. They lost by one goal to Russia to begin the exhibition portion of the schedule, then came back with a shootout victory against the same team two days later.

And now they’ve beaten the North American team, which could be a fan favorite in this competition with its abundance of speed and talent.

The Czechs will be in tough, however, when the tournament begins. They’ve got Canada for an opener on Sept. 17, and Team USA on Sept. 22.