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Team USA Hopes Familiarity Breeds A Winning Concept

By Harry Thompson - USA Hockey Magazine, 09/15/16, 4:00PM EDT

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Shared time on U.S. national teams helps current World Cup roster

TORONTO -- When it comes to competing in international tournaments, members of Team USA view the lead up time like a Beatles song, "Hello, Goodbye." They barely have a chance to say hello before it's time to say goodbye and head back to their NHL clubs.

The preparation for the World Cup of Hockey has allowed the 23 players to spend quality time together both on and off the ice. They are confident that familiarity will transfer to the ice when the puck drops on Saturday when Team USA takes on Team Europe at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

"I think it's great. It gives us some time to get accustomed to the way we're going to play and go over things that we really want to do," said Patrick Kane, one of 14 Olympic veterans on the team.

"And just (to) hang out with everyone and get used to your teammates both on and off the ice has been great."

It's not like these players are total strangers. Most have played with and against each other over the years, whether at a USA Hockey player development camp, with the National Team Development Program or in other international tournaments.

But in an Olympic tournament during the era in which NHL players have represented their countries, teams typically have one or two practices and a pregame skate before playing their first game.

And unlike an Olympic tournament, where teams are fairly certain of reaching the all-important quarterfinals, only four of the eight teams here will advance to the semifinals on Sept. 24 and 25. That means the Americans have to be firing on all cylinders come Saturday. Their second game will be a stiff test against Canada followed two days later with game against the Czech Republic.

"This is more of a World Championship type of experience where you have a little more time to get together and figure out who we are with a few games that don't matter in the standings," said veteran forward David Backes.

"We have that commonality of that experience of three games together combined with a lot of high-tempo, high-intensity practices so that moving forward. We all know what our roles are supposed to be, and we'll need to execute that to the highest level so we can have success as a group."

More than just getting to know each other, it's a chance for these players to get accustomed to head coach John Tortorella's system, which promises to be an uptempo, attacking style.

"We basically all know each other, but with Torts coming in and a new system and new style of play it's good to get some pre tournament games before we start the real thing," said veteran forward Ryan Kesler.

"Obviously with new systems, new ways to play, it helps to have time to work on it together. Even just creating chemistry with the team and feeling more like a team than in those short tournaments where it takes a while to figure each other out."

It's been something of a whirlwind since the team came together in Columbus, Ohio on Sept. 4. After four days of high-intensity practices, the team played spirited back-to-back exhibition games against Canada. Following the second game in Ottawa, they boarded a red-eye back to Washington, D.C.., where they had a final tuneup against Finland this past Tuesday.

"I think the exhibition games were key," said forward Kyle Palmieri. "Going through the first week of camp we were trying to develop our systems and watching videos of what we were going to do. But getting a couple of pre-tournament games, including back-to-back games with Canada, you get to see yourself in that system.

"For some guys, some of the systems are similar to what they play with their teams. And for others, it's a pretty big switch."

One challenge for the coaching staff is not to try to cram too much information into their players' heads, given the extended practice time, and to let them use their skills and creativity within the framework of the team system.

"The biggest battle for all coaches in the tournament is how much you give your team. You don't want to paralyze them. It's their tournament," Tortorella said after Thursday's practice.

And while every team is in the same boat, like any short tournament, the team that comes together the best in the shortest amount of time is the odds-on favorite to win it all. Still, the Team USA players are hoping the two-week run up to the World Cup has been time well spent.

"I think we've had a good 10 days, and now it's time to get going," said goaltender Ben Bishop. "It's time to drop the puck."

World Cup News

Team USA Schedule & Results

Date Opponent/Event Location Result
Fri, Sept. 9 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Columbus, OH (Nationwide) W, 4-2
Sat., Sept. 10 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Ottawa, Ont. L, 2-5
Tues., Sept. 13 Finland (Pre-Tourn.) Washington, D.C. (Verizon) W, 3-2
Sat., Sept. 17 Team Europe Toronto (ACC) L, 0-3
Tues., Sept. 20 Canada Toronto (ACC) L, 2-4
Thurs., Sept. 22 Czech Republic Toronto (ACC) L, 3-4

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