Why Team USA will beat Team Canada at World Cup of Hockey

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- From a pure hockey standpoint, Team Canada is filthy rich in talent.

But Team USA was built to steal that fame and fortune at the World Cup of Hockey.

The two teams will square off in the round-robin portion of the best-on-best tournament on Sept. 20 at Toronto's Air Canada Centre (8 p.m., ESPN). They've already split a pair of pre-tournament games in preparation for the World Cup, and their intense rivalry was on full display. The animosity is only going to increase once the puck officially drops.

Team USA goalie Cory Schneider described Canada as arguably the best team in the tournament and said that having faced the Canadians in warm-up games will help the Americans.

"Playing against the best, prepares you the best," Schneider said.

Is Canada really the better team, though?


In terms of team concept, Team USA has the upper hand.

Yes, I said it. Bring on the comments -- but just be ready for the "I told you so" when the tournament is over. Last week I picked Team Sweden to win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but this isn't about who is going to win this tournament. It's strictly between Team USA and Canada.

The American roster was built to slow down Canada. Every team has some level of depth in this tournament, but Team USA has the right kind of depth. Players have accepted their roles, and the management group quickly gave this team an identity when the roster was formed. The chemistry has been evident during training camp. I've been covering Team Sweden and Finland, but now that I'm back on American soil for games at Verizon Center on Tuesday (Team USA vs. Finland, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Wednesday (Team Sweden vs. Team Europe, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3), I want to give my impressions of the U.S. team -- whether you want them or not.

I understand there are some extremely talented players -- Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Faulk -- who were not selected to the roster, but the vision of Team USA's management group, including coach John Tortorella, has built a team that can beat Canada.

I like the fact that many teams in this tournament have focused on small-area games during practice, including Team USA. Those drills help players make quicker decisions in tight situations, and because the talent level throughout this tournament is off the charts, most of the goals scored will be in the dirty areas. That's where size and skill will be a factor for the Americans.

"We're trying to get more work underneath the hashmarks so there's pressure and there's some combativeness within it," explained Tortorella. "It's just, how much do you give them? Small-ice games are a very important part of hockey, especially early on when you're with your guys."

Canada will score goals -- there's no denying that. If you're wondering how Team USA will produce offense against the Canadians, it has to come from secondary scoring. We know Patrick Kane is going to score, but others on the roster will need to produce, including the likes of Max Pacioretty, Justin Abdelkader, Ryan Kesler and T.J. Oshie. Team USA can't make any mistakes when facing Canada. When they play for real, it's going to be fast-paced and it's going to be fun to watch.

Canada is loaded with plenty of two-way players, but if the U.S. can establish its speed early and maintain that structure and physicality, there's no reason not to think the Americans can beat Canada. Team USA isn't about to completely pound the Canadians into submission or try to beat them in one-on-one situations. The mindset is to keep the momentum and not allow Canada's best players to reach the elite game level.

Team USA has to limit Canada's offensive zone possession time. If the U.S. makes a mistake in its own end, Canada will make it count.

"I'm glad we played Canada," Tortorella said, "because they are a really good team, probably the best team in the tournament right now. ... I think it really gave us a focus on that we just weren't close enough to the puck on our breakout, so we didn't come out clean. We just weren't supporting enough, and we certainly weren't close enough or really even gave ourselves a chance to forecheck because we got stubborn at the blue line in trying to make too many plays instead of putting it behind them."

For this story, I reached out to a few different hockey personnel on both sides of the border. I polled players from other teams in this tournament, and the majority believe Team USA will beat Team Canada.

"Both teams are talented, probably the best two teams in the tournament," said one current NHL player who is neither American nor Canadian. "But the identity and chemistry and the role players, I like the U.S. more."

Canada has won three of the past four gold medals at the Winter Olympics, including the 2010 Vancouver Games and 2014 Sochi Games. That international success will end against Team USA this time around.