MONTREAL -- For nearly two hours Monday in Bell Centre, Team North America staged its first practice for the World Cup of Hockey. When it was over, a bunch of the 23-and-under kids stayed on the ice to keep working. Some as long as a half hour more. One of them was Sabres standout Jack Eichel. Months after officially being named to the team, Eichel was finally on the ice with the group.
"It's great. It's something all of us have been looking forward to for a while, " Eichel said. "It's nice to get on the ice with everyone and see our skill come out and see how good we can be."
With players like Eichel, Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, Dylan Larkin and Auston Matthews, speed is the No. 1 trait Team North American will possess.
"We're young and we can use that to our advantage," Eichel said. "We play with a lot of pace, play fast. I think that's going to be good. You have to like our chances. A lot of people are probably counting us out with a lot of inexperience and being a young team. But we know in this room we can be really good."
It's the first time Eichel and McDavid have ever played together on a team and that's a huge subplot to the tournament.
"It's great. Wouldn't you like to do that every day?" said Team North America coach Todd McLellan. "Just tremendously talented, great hockey skills and skill sets. They're teammates now, which hasn't happened before, but it's happening now and it's great to be a part of it."
"Growing up in USA Hockey, you play against a lot of these good players from Canada," Eichel said. "Same with them playing against us. to kind of mesh and become one team for a tournament is pretty exciting. Guys know each other. The NHL is a brotherhood. We'll come together pretty quickly. We're all pretty similar in age."
Eichel played on a line Monday with Calgary's Gaudreau and Columbus' Brandon Saad. McDavid was centering Winnipeg's Mark Schiefele and Tampa Bay's Jonathan Drouin. McLellan seems likely to go through combinations in practice the next two days and during the exhibition schedule, which opens Thursday in Quebec City against Team Europe.
Eichel knows shifting linemates and changing roles will be the norm for this group heading into the Sept. 17 opener of the tournament in Toronto.
"Everyone is pretty happy. There's no bad players on this team," he said. "Everyone is super skilled so I don't think that will be a problem. Everyone is pulling in the right direction."