By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) – The World Cup of Hockey opened with an upset as Team Europe, a hybrid of smaller hockey playing nations, stunned the United States 3-0 on Saturday.
Team Europe, cobbled together with players from eight countries and coached by Ralph Krueger, the chairman of English Premier League side Southampton FC, had goals from Slovakia, Germany and France and shutout netminding from Jaroslav Halak as the World Cup emerged from a 12-year hibernation with a shocker.
The win put Team Europe at the top of the Group A standings which also includes tournament favorites Canada and the Czech Republic, who clash later on Saturday.
“We’ve come here to play nine periods (three games) and like everyone else we want to be playing next weekend, that was from the get-go the reason for us to be here,” said Krueger. “We didn’t see ourselves as just a sideshow ever.
“We didn’t come here to have one nice game, we came here to compete and to be around next weekend.
“It (the win) has set us up now for some fun in the tournament … We have a difficult challenge still ahead of us, we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Slovakian Marian Gaborik scored on Team Europe’s first shot when he took a perfect feed from Denmark’s Frans Nielsen and redirected it past U.S. netminder Jonathan Quick.
Europe added two more goals in the second, Germany’s Leon Draisaitl finishing off a give-and-go with Switzerland’s Nino Niederreiter and Frenchman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare upping the lead to 3-0 with 1:28 left in the period.
“This is not a marathon as coaches always talk about in the NHL season, this is a sprint and we’ve put ourselves in a spot now where we are chasing the tournament,” said U.S. coach John Tortorella. “It’s a spot we didn’t want to be in, it is a very dangerous spot but we are here.
“We just need to stay together and not blow ourselves up.”
Goaltending, expected to be a U.S. strength, was shaky with Quick surrendering three goals on nine shots through two periods.
Instead, it was Halak shining in net, stopping all 35 shots he faced.
“Not the way you want to start the tournament but at the same time we can’t lose confidence,” said U.S. forward Patrick Kane. “Obviously the next game is going to be huge for us.
“We have to learn from this one, focus on what we have to do better and get ourselves ready to play next game against Canada.
“We’re up against the wall now.”
(Editing by Ian Ransom)