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Team North America will hear both U.S., Canadian anthems

QUEBEC CITY – Even before a puck has been dropped, anthems have been a big topic at the World Cup of Hockey.

Team USA coach John Tortorella started a brouhaha when he told ESPN he would keep any player on the bench for the night if that player didn’t get off it and stand for the Star-Spangled Banner in the wake of the protests by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith then called for Tortorella to be removed from his duties as coach, a move USA Hockey is clearly not going to make.

Things have had a much more lighter tone when it comes to Team North America and Team Europe, the two entries in the field that are amalgamations of countries. The NHL and NHLPA jointly announced they would play both the Canadian and U.S. national anthems before each Team North America contest and have decided there will be no anthem for Team Europe.

Team Europe’s roster is comprised of players from eight countries, with six players each from Germany and Slovakia. Also represented are Switzerland (4), Denmark (3) and one player each from Austria, France, Norway and Slovenia. So there was no real way to have an anthem.

“It was a long process, something obviously we, as a staff and management, tried to work on,” Team Europe defenseman Zdeno Chara said Thursday in Videotron Centre prior to the exhibition game against Team North America. “But at this point, we had so many nations that we felt it was unnecessary. We’re real proud to represent our countries, whatever one it is, but it was something that everybody agreed would probably be too difficult at this point. “

Team Europe leads all clubs in the field with five players who participated in the last World Cup, held in 2004 as the final event before the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season. Chara, Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa competed for Slovakia that year while Christian Ehrhoff and Dennis Seidenberg skated for Germany.

During the last World Cup, of course, most of Team North America’s players were not yet 10 years old.

“Guys know each other from playing on teams before, whether it’s All-Star games or playing for national teams,” Chara said. “So it’s been a really easy transition. Everybody knows a handful of guys before they got here and now it’s a great chance to get to know each other even better.”

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The contract stalemate between Rasmus Ristolainen and the Buffalo Sabres continues as the defenseman began play in the tournament Thursday.

Ristolainen, a restricted free agent, played a game-high 26 minutes, 29 seconds in Finland’s 3-2 overtime win over Sweden in Helsinki. There is nothing new to report in regards to negotiations with the Sabres, a source said, and the 21-year-old will play in the international tournament without a deal in place. The defenseman is Buffalo’s last significant free agent remaining.

Ristolainen is insured against any short- or long-term injury suffered during the World Cup.

Ristolainen has company in attending the tournament without a deal. Other unsigned restricted free agents playing in the World Cup include Team North America winger Johnny Gaudreau and defenseman Jacob Trouba, Swedish defensman Hampus Lindholm and Team Russia winger Nikita Kucherov.

Ristolainen’s presumed new defense partner in Buffalo, Dmitry Kulikov, played 19:44 and posted a plus-2 rating in Russia’s 4-3 win over the Czech Republic in St. Petersburg. Kulikov was credited with four hits, second on the team.

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About an hour before faceoff Thursday, Team North America made official what had been expected all week by naming Connor McDavid as its captain for the tournament. Florida’s Aaron Ekblad and Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier were named alternates.

“On a team full of future NHL captains, we have a strong leadership group on Team North America,” coach Todd McLellan said in a statement. “In particular, these three players – Connor, Sean and Aaron – have identified themselves in camp as key leaders for our team. They will be assisted by their teammates to ensure the full group is working together towards our goal of having success in the World Cup.”

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Team North America leads all clubs in the field with five No. 1 overall picks, one more than Team Canada. In fact, the young stars team has five of the last six No. 1s in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton, 2011), Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado, 2013), Ekblad (Florida, 2014), McDavid (Edmonton, 2015) and Auston Matthews (Toronto, 2016). The only first-rounder in that stretch not on the club is Russian winger Nail Yakupov, taken by Edmonton in 2012.

Team North America has 16 first-round picks in its lineup overall, tied with Canada for the most in the tournament. It also has top-5 picks in Ryan Murray (second to Columbus, 2012), Jonathan Drouin (third to Tampa Bay, 2013), Seth Jones (fourth to Nashville, 2013) and Jack Eichel (2nd to Buffalo, 2015).

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• Team North America will remain here for practice the next two days and then meet Team Europe again Sunday night at 6 in Montreal’s Bell Centre. Team North America then travels to Pittsburgh to meet the Czech Republic Wednesday at 3:30 in its final warmup match before opening the tournament in Toronto against Finland on Sept. 18.

• Team Europe starts practice in Montreal on Friday. After Sunday’s game, it heads to Washington to play Sweden on Wednesday. Its official tourney opener is Sept. 17 against Team USA.

• Thursday’s game marked ESPN’s return to hockey coverage for the first time since 2004. The ESPN family of networks will show the entire tournament. Team North America’s final two exhibition games will be streamed on ESPN3 but all of its games in the actual tourney will be on ESPN or ESPN2.

News Sports Reporter John Vogl contributed to this report. email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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