We’ll Miss You, Team North America

team north america
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 21: Vincent Trocheck #21 of Team North America celebrates his first period goal against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of Team Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 21, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

They provided just what the game needs – entertainment. Team North America, the young guns that are the future of the NHL and the darlings of the World Cup of Hockey 2016, will be missed so dearly.

Prior to the tournament, many fans of the game were skeptical of the format. The young guns of North America and the older outcasts of Team Europe faced criticism of being a gimmick and a moneymaking scheme created by the league. Pundits were quick to dismiss the young side. Fast-forward to the final round and everyone is singing a different tune.

Team North America

The dynamic phenoms of Team North America quickly stole everyone’s hearts. By puck drop, everyone had a new favourite team.

Led by superstar Connor McDavid, the under-23 side faced questions prior to the tournament. How would they handle the pressure of facing the game’s best? Would they actually have the drive to play hard since they weren’t really playing for a specific nation? They answered quickly.

They came out firing on all cylinders in their first two pre-tournament games, outscoring their made-up counterparts of Team Europe, an experienced squad. The run-and-gun style of play was producing results. Everyone was catching on. Not only was their firepower from the forwards consisting of Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, John Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, and many more, but the defense corps was able to play a solid system as well. Stud defensemen Aaron Ekblad, Morgan Rielly, and Shayne Gostisbehere, amongst many others, displayed flashes of brilliance in front of Stanley Cup-winning Matt Murray in net. The team was solid all around and goals were aplenty.

As the dazzling goals came from the speedy young guns, people drew their eyes towards the black, grey, and orange-clad team. For the first time in a while, there was a different air of excitement surrounding hockey.

Entertaining Hockey

Other teams just couldn’t keep up with Team North America – for many reasons. The legendary Wayne Gretzky recently said that players nowadays are taught systematic play at such an early age. Due to this, it ultimately shuns some of the true talent amongst certain players.

“[on current hockey] It’s changed completely. I think the biggest thing we’ve lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general.”

The new style of game in the NHL is so systematic and methodized. Just look at the dominance of Team Canada under Mike Babcock. Sure, they’re an amazingly good team, but are they really exciting and fun to watch? The young North American side offers so many facets of excitement and dynamics of hockey that aren’t common today.

For one, the fast-paced tempo of play allowed the young players to dominate games with sheer speed alone. A positive aspect of playing for a made-up team rather than a specific country is that the pressure is different. Therefore, the repercussions may be smaller. The age of the modern NHL has strayed from the skill-based style of play that saw Gretzky and so many others dominate the game. Goal scoring is at a major low in hockey and viewership isn’t great either. Nowadays, players often put aside their skill and talent to conform to a system. Seeing the young, exuberant stars just play naturally, using their talent and skill to outscore their opponents made the audience constantly stand up from their seats.

It’s a form of entertainment – fans of hockey and sports want to see goals and exciting play. In a sense, it’s the most natural form of the game. From the Fan Village in Toronto, as well as the Air Canada Centre, many children and teens were laden in Team North America gear. Kids aspiring to become hockey players are so drawn to the under-23 team because of the way that they play, it’s something that isn’t seen or preached at most levels of the game now. Even the “kids” themselves – McDavid, Gaudreau and the likes – flourished by playing a brand of hockey that they likely won’t be able to use once the regular NHL season starts.

Kudos must be given to the coaches of the squad, more so Todd McLellan who let them play a style of game that adhered to their strengths. Team North America were able to show that hockey can be entertaining. They proved that the flash, dazzle, and raw talent is dead yet; it’s just hidden. Creativity and imagination are stifled.

The Future of the Game

Team North America offered the faithful fans of hockey something that likely won’t be seen in the salary cap era. For the first time, and probably the only time, a team featured five recent first overall picks, 10 top-five picks, and 16 first-rounders. It was the Harlem Globetrotters meets hockey.

The chance to see Auston Matthews play alongside McDavid and Eichel was certainly an amazing sight to see. The high-octane firepower and limitless amounts of skill presented way too much excitement. Shift by shift and line by line, the team found ways to get the audience out of their seats. Without a doubt, they were embraced by everyone who follows hockey.

The North American team was somewhat detrimental to others as well. Team USA floundered and failed to live up to expectations. Of course, players like Matthews, Eichel, Gaudreau, Gostisbehere, and Seth Jones would be in the conversation to crack the big team roster. What it also means, though, is that everyone could catch a glimpse of what the future of American hockey would look like. Also, for Team Canada, it offers some competition for future international tournaments. Could McDavid dethrone Sidney Crosby? Only time will tell.

In terms of star power, the future of hockey is bright. The World Cup brings its flaws, but it also displays what lays ahead. North America is mirrored by Team Finland, who, much like USA, is undergoing a transitional period. Matthews and Eichel will be challenged by the likes of Patrik Laine and Sebastian Aho down the road.

Will Fans See This Again?

Ultimately, Team North America leaves our graces way too early and takes much of the excitement with them. The free-running style of play was a joy to see and is gone too soon.  New fans from the tournament witnessed a truly great moment of the game and now risks losing any welcomed guests to systematic formations and tactics that dominate the league.

The reaction from fans is overwhelmingly great and left many wishing that the young guns had a longer stay in the tournament. Unfortunately, though, the idea of Team North America is unlikely to ever happen again.

The free-flowing, super talented squad of young superstars is along the lines of what hockey fans fantasize about. From now on, watching hockey will be so different.

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