James Caldwell The Hockey Writers
Head on a Swivel: European Rearguard Hoping for Fountain of Youth
We have all heard the timeless sports cliche more times than we can count: defense wins championships. The second most important position on the ice is not one defined by speed or youth for Team Europe. Fans of this collection of Europeans for the upcoming 2016 WCH will not be finding prominent names like those possessed on Team Canada or Team USA. What follows will be an in-depth look at who will be representing Team Europe on the back-end.
For all your WCH needs, make sure you bookmark THW’s WCH page. Looking for a more in-depth look at the European forwards? Check out my breakdown here.
Pairing One: Chara and Josi
Watching the first game on Septemeber 7, two things came to mind. What is wrong with Zdeno Chara? And boy is Roman Josi one hell of a defenseman. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand this was the first bit of real-time hockey these guys have played this year. However, playing against the speedsters of Team North America, Chara looked like an old and average defenseman. At least one other person shares the same viewpoint:
Chara Broiled https://t.co/7e2xCanCby pic.twitter.com/1cs5fEqa5n
— SabresBuzz (@SabresBuzz) September 11, 2016
Chara is 39-years old. He will turn 40 before the end of the 2016-17 NHL season. After playing in over 1,400 NHL games and 76 games for his native Slovakia, the 6’9″ 250-pound behemoth is running out of steam. Back in 2012, Chara blasted an astounding 108.8 mph shot at the All-Star game. He still has that lethal shot, and will need plenty of them to hit the target to keep Team Europe in this tournament.
In case you haven’t seen Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators play, he’s pretty good:
On the Forecheck’s Austin Pirkle gives a more in-depth review of Josi this past season. Drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft, Josi compiled 61 points this past season, marking his third consecutive year of posting a new career high. He has also been a mainstay for his native Swiss team, helping guide them to a surprise silver medal at the 2013 World Championships with his MVP performance. At the age of 26, Josi will have to share the load with captain Anze Kopitar and lead this team to the semi-finals.
Pairing Two: Sekera and Streit
The second pairing teams a once promising European prospect with a man drafted behind guys like Brian Ihnacak and Gennady Stolyarov. A great second pairing in any other capacity, Andrej Sekera and Mark Streit bring plenty of international experience with some impressive accomplishments as well.
Once a winner of the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the OHL’s best defenseman, Sekera has not quite lived up to the prestige that comes with winning that award. However, at least for one month, he was better than Drew Doughty. Not a bad defenseman by any means, Sekera brings two Olympics and over 70 games with Slovakia to this international tournament.
At the age of 38, Streit has some impressive accolades on his resume. He was in the Swiss version of the NHL league from 2008 to 2011. He has captained both the New York Islanders and Swiss national team, becoming the first Swiss-born captain in league history. Streit has also been nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy when he was with the Montreal Canadiens. Coming off a decent campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers, Streit and Sekera are hoping past success can lead to future prominence.
Pairing Three: Ehrhoff and Sbisa (Seidenberg)
Making up the third and final pairing will be a once budding star, another promising prospect, and a man still looking for a job for the upcoming season.
Christian Ehrhoff was drafted by the San Jose Sharks 106th overall in the fourth round of the 2001 draft. Known primarily as an offensive defenseman, Ehrhoff’s most impressive seasons were in 2010-12, where he earned the distinct Babe Pratt trophy as Vancouver’s best defenseman. Participant of three Olympics, one Stanley Cup final, and champion of the Krefeld Penguins, the German international will hope to use this tournament to show NHL GMs he still has something to offer.
Luca Sbisa was one of the most frustrating players to watch as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. Although Ralph Krueger expects a big role from the Swiss international, Sbisa has yet to establish himself as a consistent performer night in and night out. Markus Meyer of THW wrote a piece about Sbisa, as did Thos Pratt at Nucks Misconduct. Sbisa has been heralded as a tough, gritty, and old-fashioned type defenseman throughout his career in which advanced statistics cannot fully appreciate. Krueger and Team Europe fans hope Sbisa can be consistent for at least three games this tournament. Hopefully, we will see more hits like this:
Dennis Seidenberg was surprised, to say the least, when he learned he had been bought-out by the Boston Bruins this past summer. Helping guide the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup, Seidenberg looks to be the odd-man out in the rotation for Team Europe. The 35-year old rearguard has amassed over 700 NHL games and 50 more for the Germans internationally.
Just like their forward counterparts, the pairings for Team Europe on the backend are nothing to be ashamed about. However, when speed, skill, and youth are what is prominent in today’s NHL, having the oldest and slowest players protecting your crease is something to be wary about. With most of these players past their prime or still looking for NHL jobs when training camps open, they will be hard-pressed to counter the onslaught of pressure from Canada, USA, or the Czech Republic.
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