TORONTO — Tomas Tatar is relatively tiny, generously listed as a 5-foot-10 wing for Team Europe.
His production, without a doubt, has been huge.
The Slovak scored his team’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Canada in the World Cup of Hockey finals opener Tuesday night. In the semifinals against Sweden, his second goal gave his eight-nation team a 3-2 overtime victory.
At 185 pounds, he is as many as 50 pounds lighter than some Canadian defenseman, but the 25-year-old Red Wings forward fearlessly uses the space in front of the net to deflect pucks past goaltenders or score off rebounds.
“His ability to go to the net and find spaces without being the biggest body is courageous,” Europe coach Ralph Krueger said Wednesday. “He was No. 1 on our roster in terms of penetrating into the areas that matter. To have three goals in two games is an amazing accomplishment in best-on-best hockey.
“I’ve got seven highlight clips of him going to the net front, and that’s where he’s scoring. People might think it’s lucky, but it’s not. As a European skilled player, he’s learned to mix and blend what’s needed to be successful in North America by getting to the front of the net.”
Europe will need Tatar to keep up his pace, and for some of his teammates to contribute offensively, to likely have a chance to upset the Sidney Crosby -led Canadians in Game 2 of the best-of-three World Cup of Hockey finals .
Tatar was in the right place at the right time for his latest goal, standing several feet in front of the net when a loose puck was there for him to shoot and score. The score 7 minutes into the second period of Game 1 pulled Europe within a goal of Canada.
“He’s going to the net,” Canada coach Mike Babcock said. “Tats has great skill and great determination to score. He’s a good hockey player. He was real good for me when I was in Detroit. He wants to be in big situations.”
Europe would not have beaten Sweden, a traditional power, without Tatar.
He was perched by the right side of the net, perfectly positioned to stuff the winner into the net past Henrik Lundqvist in overtime on Sunday. Tatar scored an impressive, go-ahead goal earlier in the game. He shot the puck, raced past defensemen and made the most of an opportunity when Lundqvist failed to handle it by scoring off his own rebound.
Zdeno Chara, a 39-year-old fellow Slovakian, has watched Tatar develop into one of their country’s top players.
“He’s playing hungry,” Chara said. “The first goal against Sweden, he shot and then outskated the defenseman, got the rebound and put it in the net. That just shows you how dedicated and hungry he was going for that goal.”
When praise from his coach and Chara are relayed to Tatar, he simply shrugs his shoulder and humbly says he’s just doing his job.
“I’m playing with two great players, Marian (Hossa) and Anze (Kopitar), and I’m trying to create the most space I can for them,” Tatar said. “They’ve been in the league forever, they’ve won Stanley Cups, and I accept the role. In front of the net, around the net, that’s where the puck always ends up so I guess I get to a good spot. I’ve got some good bounces the last two games and I was fortunate to put the puck in the net.”