TORONTO — Europe coach Ralph Krueger was well aware of the odds against his team in the World Cup of Hockey. His players didn’t focus on that and instead listened to his message.
The speed at which Europe (2-0) has bought into what Krueger was preaching has them sitting atop Group A following a 3-2 overtime victory over the Czech Republic on Monday.
“They always believed we’d have a shot at being where we are today. Probably nobody outside of our room did,” Krueger said. “We haven’t even spoken about winning, we’ve just spoken about execution and growth since Day 1, but we never used any negative motivators.
“We’re not done with these two games, we want to continue into the next game and bring a high level and compete onwards.”
Leon Draisaitl at 2:06 of overtime, taking a pass from Mats Zuccarello and beating Czech goalie Petr Mrazek low on his blocker side for his second goal of the tournament.
Zdeno Chara and Zuccarello scored in regulation while Jaroslav Halak stopped 28 shots for his second win of the tournament.
Jakub Voracek and Martin Hanzal responded for the Czech Republic (0-2), which is all but eliminated from advancing to the semifinals. Mrazek made 38 saves.
“It’s not great, we lost two games and we don’t have much chance right now to go to semis,” said Hanzal, who scored his first of the tournament in the third period to force overtime. “We’ve got to hope that Canada loses twice, it’s going to be really hard, but there’s still a chance.”
The Czechs now have two days off before concluding the preliminary round against the United States. Europe plays Sweden.
Europe took a 2-1 lead at 2:17 of the third period on Zuccarello’s first of the tournament. Moments after sprawling out to rob Roman Josi with a huge glove save, Mrazek mishandled Zuccarello’s fluttering wrist shot.
Hanzal tied it 2-2 on a power play at 8:31 of the third, picking up the bounce off the end boards off of a Vladimir Sobotka’s point shot and beating Halak.
Chara opened the scoring at 10:04 of the second period, beating a screened Mrazek with a floater from the top of the faceoff circle for his first of the tournament.
The Czechs nearly respond moments later as the puck got behind Halak, but Dennis Seidenberg was there to clear it off the goal line.
Voracek tied it with 6:32 left in the middle period as he got around a pinching Josi and beat Halak.
Europe outshot the Czechs 21-9 in the second period and had plenty of opportunities to take over the game.
Just over two minutes in and with Europe already on a power play, Czech defenseman Michal Kempny jumped on a loose puck in the crease giving Europe a penalty shot. Anze Kopitar took the shot but could not beat Mrazek with a backhand deke.
Then, just past the six-minute mark of the second, Marian Hossa beat Halak glove side, but his wrist shot deflected off the post.
“We really got together within the room,” Draisaitl said. “By now, everyone kind of knows their role and that’s really important on a team. We just clicked as a team.”