With the pre-tournament exhibitions out of the way, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey opened up on Saturday with one game ending how everyone probably expected, while the other’s result surprised. Two Blackhawks were of course heavily involved in the tournament’s opening proceedings: the newly acquired Michal Kempny for Team Czech Republic and Patrick Kane for Team USA.
In the opening game, Team USA was supposed to have an easy victory to start off group play in the tournament’s round-robin against Team Europe. Going in, Europe was largely considered one of the weaker rosters in this World Cup. By all respects, USA should have walked away with two easy points, right?
Kane and the Americans now have a lot to answer for after a listless 3-0 loss. This was already a questionably put together team that came in with coaching issues and roster liabilities, so it will be fascinating to see how they respond. This loss does not make the road any easier with juggernaut Canada up next on Tuesday.
Speaking of, in the late game Team Canada blew the doors off of Team Czech Republic 6-0, although admittedly the Czech Republic put up more of a fight than most expected.
There wasn’t really much to take away from the game results-wise. Canada is the tournament favorite and is loaded with superstars at every position. A 3-0 lead to exit the first period galvanized by reigning Conn Smythe winner Sidney Crosby put away all reasonable thoughts of an upset. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews would add a late goal to make it 5-0.
What was interesting to see was how new Blackhawks defenseman Michal Kempny would play. This is a player that’s making the transition over from the KHL to the NHL, so it was worth watching how he would perform against such stacked odds in a very formidable foe. While admittedly Kempny won’t have to play against teams nearly as loaded in the regular season – given this being an international tournament – games like this are some of the first glances where we have an opportunity to evaluate him and see how he fits into Chicago’s plans.
Top pairing minutes against an immovable object does serve a purpose in some sense.
And early testing showed out well for the 26-year-old. In the first period, before the game got ugly, Kempny more than held his own against the Canadian onslaught. He looked smooth in the defensive zone carrying the puck out by himself on more than a few occasions, and even quarterbacked the Czech Republic power play, letting off several well placed wrist shots that wouldn’t make it home.
If Kempny can look competent against such a complete team, this should build confidence in him being able to handle bottom pairing minutes in the NHL and being more than a viable boost to the Blackhawks’ defensive core.
Unfortunately, while Kempny flashed his talents, he and his Czech Republic teammates were no match tonight, becoming yet another victim of ‘Goliath’ Canada. Most of the game became garbage time for a team overmatched in every possible facet, but Kempny looked just fine otherwise.
We’ll next get a look at Kempny when the Czech Republic tries to regroup and takes on Team Europe on Monday afternoon at 2:00 P.M. Central on ESPN. Team USA will go up against Canada on Tuesday at 7:00 P.M. Central also on ESPN.
World Cup scores on Saturday
Team Europe 3 Team USA 0
Team Canada 6 Team Czech Republic 0
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.