The World Cup of Hockey is only a few days old and already players of color are having a huge impact in the best-on-best international tournament – from a brother from France scoring to Big Buff sitting.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a Philadelphia Flyers forward and Team Europe’s only French member, put a dagger in Team USA in the World Cup opener Saturday, scoring on a neat second-period tip-in in Europe’s 3-0 shocker over the United States.
On a Europe squad stacked with firepower the likes of Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa, Bellemare made the most of his 15 minutes-plus of ice time, registering a goal, one shot, and one hit. He won 36 percent of his face-offs.
While Team Europe basked in its upset victory, Team USA Head Coach John Tortorella faced questions about his decision not to dress Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfgulien for Saturday’s game.
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Byfuglien is one of the National Hockey League’s best offensive blue-liners, blessed with one of the league’s hardest and most-accurate shots. He was eighth in scoring among NHL defensemen last season with 19 goals and 34 assists.
He’s the highest-scoring defenseman on a Team USA roster that includes John Carlson and Matt Niskanen of the Washington Capitals, Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche, Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, and the New York Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh.
“Well, I have to take someone out, and Buff has been used on defense and forward, along with Kyle Palmieri as a right winger, too, and we made the decision for this game, this was our best lineup,” Tortorella explained after the game. “It’s certainly not a negative thought on Buff, but we decided to go with this lineup tonight.”
Don’t know about you, but I think Tortorella might pencil Byfuglien into the lineup when Team USA faces Canada Tuesday night.
Byfuglien and Bellemare are among five players of color participating in the eight-team World Cup of Hockey tourney. Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, whose mother is a former chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation, Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward Auston Matthews, and Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones are the other three.