James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Rinne edges Rask to get Finland’s first World Cup start

For better or worse, many World Cup teams seem to lean toward experience when it comes to picking their goalies.

The latest example seemingly comes with Finland picking Pekka Rinne over Tuukka Rask to face North America in their tournament opener, the rough equivalent to giving him the No. 1 job.

That word comes from multiple reporters, including LNH.com’s Arpon Basu.

With each goalie making massive and nearly identical amounts of money, it’s a little tougher to tell what the determining factor might be. Neither generated the greatest work in preliminary games, though Rinne does have Finland’s lone exhibition win.

Rask’s career save percentage (.924) is comfortably superior to that of Rinne (.917), but Rinne has a bit more NHL experience and is four years older.

It’s a decision that comes with some criticism, but the bottom line is that the towering Nashville Predators goalie draws the start.

If Rask wants to feel any better, he may only need to think about the dazzling group of young skaters who will attempt to beat Rinne tonight.

Tortorella: USA vs. Canada is ‘our championship game’


After Saturday’s humbling 3-0 loss to Europe, Team USA head coach John Tortorella was (dare we say it) remarkably understated.

He admitted that the U.S. is now “chasing it” in the World Cup of Hockey and was borderline boring in cautioning against panic.

Thankfully, he brought the drama this afternoon, though. In his mind, Tuesday’s game against Canada is America’s “championship game,” according to reporters including the AP’s Stephen Whyno.

“This is either you’re afraid of it or it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Tortorella said, via NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

Tortorella is far from the only Team USA member to acknowledge the importance of Tuesday’s looming test against Canada. “Must-win” seems to be the phrase of the moment for quite a few players.

“There’s always pressure, but it’s a must-win for us,” Derek Stepan said, according to NHL.com. “Maybe it’s a good thing we got our backs against the wall and got a little adversity. We have to up our level and up our game.”

While it’s dangerous to assume that practice lines equal game-time decisions, it’s worth noting that Dustin Byfuglien and Kyle Palmieri were in the mix for the U.S. during Sunday’s practice.

Torts is the first to admit that the World Cup is the sprint to the NHL regular season’s marathon. There isn’t much time to ramp up America’s pace, so why not throw a little hype around?

Rickard Rakell undergoes surgery, out at least two weeks

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Rickard Rakell‘s participation in the World Cup of Hockey was cut short after he was hospitalized; now it comes down to finding out if he’ll be ready once the Anaheim Ducks’ season begins.

The Ducks provided an update on his condition today: he underwent surgery to remove scar tissue from an appendectomy. He’ll need to miss two weeks before he can resume training.

Such a timetable doesn’t guarantee that the promising young forward will miss the start of the regular season. Anaheim begins its 2016-17 campaign with a five-game road trip that kicks off in Dallas against the Stars on Oct. 13.

That’s a decent amount of time for Rakell to recover, yet there’s always the possibility that he’ll face setbacks.

If it helps anyone deal with the less-than-ideal news, at least it’s tough to pin this too much on the World Cup of Hockey.

Add Faksa to list of Dallas Stars injured at World Cup

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It’s early, but so far, the Dallas Stars are likely the team grumbling the most about World Cup of Hockey injuries.

Tyler Seguin‘s hairline fracture in his heel is clearly the main concern, yet he isn’t the only player to watch, as Radek Faksa is banged up as well.

Faksa is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury, according to Peter Dufek. (Stars Inside Edge’s Mark Stepneski also passed along a Google translation indicating that it’s considered an “upper-body” issue …)

The whole situation has the Stars, well, a bit concerned. This has been a physical tournament in the beginning stages, so Dallas’ plight likely has other teams holding their breath with the start of the 2016-17 season not that far away.

‘Pressure is a privilege’ for Team Canada


When discussing the expectations Canada faces in just about any international hockey tournament, Wayne Gretzky essentially echoed Rick Bobby’s “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Granted, he said it in a very Canadian way to NHL.com, but the sentiment was pretty clear.

In cases like these, one would normally throw out a sarcastic “no pressure,” but it sounds like Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock actually embraces that tension.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Babcock said. “If you don’t have any pressure, it means you have no chance. Do you want to come to the tournament with no chance, or do you want to come to the tournament with pressure? …

“For me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t think our guys would, either.”

So, does this mean we need to throw out well-worn phrases like “gripping the sticks too tight?” Because that would be quite the shame.

While Babcock is all about the pressure, that doesn’t exactly mean that he’s the sort of risk-seeker who is going to go sky-diving from a hockey sense. As Jonathan Willis explains in this Sportsnet article, Canada’s style is essentially designed to play the sort of “tight” way you might expect from a team under pressure.

Since Mike Babcock’s ascension to the head coaching position in 2010, Canada’s approach has been to emphasize defensive ability. The underlying assumption seems to be that the Canadian team should outscore the opposition in almost any situation, and that the important thing is not to mess up on defence. That means bringing a safe, button-down style to every game and counting on the talent disparity to automatically compensate for any sacrifice on the offensive side of the puck.

In other words, Team Canada isn’t bothered by the dangers of high expectations, but they’re certainly avoiding the pitfalls of taking risks.

On paper, that’s a reasonable plan, yet the vultures will circle if decisions such as picking the likes of Jay Bouwmeester over P.K. Subban end up backfiring. And Babcock seems like he’s made peace with that thought.