Shortly after Team Europe’s 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic, Team Europe’s Head Coach Ralph Kreuger spoke to the press.
Three days in. What has your team accomplished so far?
RALPH KRUEGER: Well, I think it’s quite an historic three days for this group. Coming in here at 33-1 longshot, the Las Vegas bookies, it’s a lot of fun.
I mean, the guys never saw that as a hurdle. They always believed we’d have a shot at being where we are today. Probably nobody outside of our room did.
But I’m just so proud of the way the players have come together in this short period of time, how they’re representing their countries on their arms and as a group how we’ve come together. There’s just complete buy-in on this group. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this as a coach in 25 years of head coaching, where a group just bought in so quickly and sacrificed for each other.
We’re tight, and we’re not done.
You seem keenly aware of the odds, how much you guys were considered underdogs. Did you mention those sort of things to your team? At what point did you yourself start seeing this team as not an underdog but a strong team in this tournament?
RALPH KRUEGER: I just never believed those numbers. We’ve never used any negative motivators in our process. It’s always been about us finding our potential, and the belief that we could match with anybody here at this tournament.
We truly believed that. I believed that, in the 14 months I’ve been working on this project, that we had the character in our room and the ability to compete here, that we would have two wins would not have been anything we have spoken about. We haven’t even spoken about winning, we’ve just spoken about execution and growth since day one. But we never used any negative motivators.
We’ll continue to just worry about ourselves and let people think about what they want. But, you know, it’s truly, truly just a very honest group of guys trying to do something special and take some special memories into their future. That’s what we’re going to continue to work at this. We’re not done with these two games. We want to continue into the next game and bring a high level here and compete onward.
Lots the shots today on the power play, but no power play goal. No power play goal in two games. Anything you can put your finger on that you would want to improve in the power play when you see Canada?
RALPH KRUEGER: I mean, 19 power play shots in a game is a strong power play. You’re playing well. I mean, there were some amazing saves in that. We’re not panicking. We haven’t needed the power play yet. We will against Canada, for sure.
As I said, we’re here to grow and to improve every day, and we’re going to improve in that category, I’m sure.
We took a lot of confidence out of the way we moved the puck. But, you know, we just aren’t finishing at the moment. But no real big panic. We’re going to move some pieces around. We feel that, you know, we have one right-handed stick out of ten guys playing on the PP. We’ve got to get used to that and find ways with all the left-handers maybe to create some better second chances. I think we’re getting good initial opportunities, but our second chances aren’t there. We don’t have enough net pressure to create some chaos in that area, which we’d like to get better at.
Ralph, given your vast experience, it’s quite something that you haven’t seen this level of buy-in. To what do you attribute that?
RALPH KRUEGER: It’s not the buy-in that I haven’t seen, it’s just the speed of the buy-in. I think that’s the big difference. When I was with the Swiss program, it was over many years that we built things. Or with Team Canada, I stepped into a process that was started in 2007. So I was just a guest on that journey.
Whereas this, truly we started from complete scratch just two weeks ago. That’s what I mean. I mean by the way our leaders came in here, the attitude they came in with, the 12 players that came over from Olympic qualification tournaments where they finished playing eight games in five days. If you look at Anze Kopitar, his game now, he’s at ten games now in three weeks. That’s character when you can still dig out 24 minutes.
I looked at the time clock. You just end up with 24 minutes with Anze Kopitar, whether you want to or not. That kind of sacrifice for a team that never existed before is very unique, I think, what we’re experiencing here. That’s what I mean by the group. It’s just from day one. This is really not luck, guys. I thought at 30 to 13 shots after two periods, we were playing a hell of a game. We deserved to have a bigger lead. We didn’t have it. That 2-2 goal didn’t fold us, didn’t crack us. We stayed with it.
Draisaitl was able to put the icing on the cake in what I thought was a deserved win in the end.
As you mentioned, half your team basically was in Olympic qualifiers before this. Is that an advantage in terms of their fitness level? The teams here are still trying to catch up to you in that way?
RALPH KRUEGER: We took three days off since we started our camp, complete days, where we just worked off ice, did meetings with them without touching the ice, regeneration. We were careful in that.
We always said it can be an advantage when it comes down to the tough parts of the tournament, like we knew this game would be. I think when you’ve been in the trenches like they were, at a much lower level at the Olympic qualification, but so many of our players are battle ready middle of September because of this. So, yes, I’m sure it’s one of the things that’s now tipped in our favor. These players being so professional were able to regenerate, revitalize their bodies. We were able to find the spaces in between. It’s all come together. I really think it’s helped us in these first two games.
In terms of personality, leadership, maybe even skill set, is there anyone in the group that surprised you or maybe exceeded your expectations?
RALPH KRUEGER: You know, I only knew the Swiss players in advance to this tournament inside a locker room. I have to be honest with you, right across the board, I would have to name every other player to you right now. This is really out of my heart. Just the way that they are interacting with each other, if I see the calm in the group, young or old, everybody’s very calm, very relaxed. There’s nobody giddy in the room after beating the Czechs and being here with four points after two games. They want to march on. I think that’s really something that I just have so much respect for everybody in there.
Really surprised me would be just the group dynamics. The individuals, we knew we had good character. But when you look at the sacrifice and the role acceptance of players right through our lineup, the compliment needs to go to the mass and not to any individual right now.