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Role playing a key for Team North America

MONTREAL – One thing to watch when Team North America hits the ice in the World Cup of Hockey is the way players accept new roles. These are kids who have been stars at every level and have rarely played on the bottom two lines or off special teams in their careers.

That’s going to happen here a lot. And how willing they are to adjust could go a long way in determining the kind of quick chemistry the group will need to form.

“All of these players are young and playing an average of 18ø minutes a night for forwards and 22 for the defensemen,” Team North America coach Todd McLellan said Monday in Bell Centre. “There’s not enough minutes in a game for players to get to their norms here.”

McLellan agreed with the notion things will get particularly interesting on special teams.

“That first power play, they’re all going to put their leg over the boards and go and we’re going to have 20 players on the ice confused,” he joked. “That’s how good these young players are.”

McLellan said he addressed the topic at length here Sunday night during his team’s first meeting.

“It’s a little bit about what you have to give up for success,” he said. “Teams like Canada and the U.S. have guys who have gone to the Olympics and are used to going from 18 minutes a game to 12. They’ve been able to have success giving things up and the buy-in is a little easier. Here, it’s a brand new experience.”

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Several teams in the field have named their captains but Team North America is going to wait a few more days, likely into its exhibition schedule, before making a decision. Connor McDavid is a favorite to get the nod, as a potential precursor to McLellan naming him the youngest captain in NHL history when the season starts in Edmonton.

“It’s an evolving process,” said McLellan. “We have an idea of who should be stepping up, but we want to see it throughout training camp and throughout an exhibition game or two. We’re looking for a strong leadership group,” McClellan said. “It’s a lot of pressure to put on one individual to wear a ‘C’ here.”

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Rasmus Ristolainen and newly acquired Dmitry Kulikov, likely defense partners for the Sabres this season, opened World Cup training camp overseas Monday and learned their partners for this tournament.

Ristolainen was paired with Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta during Team Finland’s first workouts in Helsinski while Kulikov skated with Detroit’s Alexey Marchenko as Team Russia practiced in St. Petersburg. Ristolainen, of course, remains an unsigned restricted free agent and one of the contracts often talked about as a benchmark for Buffalo’s No. 1 blueliner is the six-year, $24.5 million deal Maatta signed with the Penguins in February.

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At Team USA’s first workout in Columbus, Chicago Blackhawks star and South Buffalo native Patrick Kane was at left wing on the top line with San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Montreal’s Max Pacioretty. Team USA and Team Canada play an exhibition game there Friday night.

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The biggest news elsewhere in the tournament is that Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen will be unavailable for Team Europe because he will miss the next 3-4 weeks due to an upper-body injury suffered Friday in an pre-Olympic qualifier for Denmark. Andersen, however, is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. He has not been replaced on the roster of Team Europe, whose general manager is former Sabres sniper Miroslav Satan.

“This gives him extra rest to get ready for the Leafs,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Monday in Ottawa after he led Team Canada’s first workout. “It’s unfortunate he didn’t get to represent his team and build confidence in this tournament, but it’s also a good situation for us that we can work with every day and he’ll be very fit and he’ll be ready to go when we’re ready to go.”

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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