It’s one of the only true best-on-best international hockey tournaments there is– the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Formerly known as the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the international under-18 annual men’s hockey tournament has nothing standing in it’s way from including the absolute best players in the world for their age group. The World Junior U20 tournament often loses it’s best 19-year-olds to the NHL, the World Championships take place during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and even the IIHF World U18 tournament runs during junior playoffs. But the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup feature the world’s top eight hockey countries, each deploying their finest 22 players.
This international affair also carries the excitement of a new hockey calendar turning over. It features the very best group of players eligible for the next NHL entry draft. For NHL fans, it’s the first look at the new crop of players who will hear their names called next June. And for junior fans, it’s the first real look at their future stars– who are undoubtedly expected to make an impact with their junior clubs this season.
For the past 20 years this tournament has been held between Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia. And since the first ever tournament back in 1991, Canada has dominated winning a total of 21 gold medals, 2 silvers, and 1 bronze. This year, the Canadians will defend their title on home soil as the tournament comes back to Western Canada for the first time since 1996.
The timing couldn’t be better for this year’s crop of players from Western Canada. 11 of the 22 players on Canada’s roster are from the Western Hockey League, with a 12th Western Canadian coming from the Alberta Junior Hockey League. It’s no doubt the WHL has a strong class of 2001 born players, and no one knows that better than fans of the Saskatoon Blades. The blue & gold will have a strong presence at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup as the only team in the WHL to have two players (Kirby Dach & Nolan Maier) representing Canada. Plus, new head coach Mitch Love (Quesnel, BC) is serving as an assistant coach.
Kirby Dach comes into the tournament with plenty of international experience to lean on, but he’ll also be looking to live up to the hype of being a first round pick come June. In Dach’s last international tournament, the towering centre from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, scored 7 points in 5 games at the 2017 World U17 Challenge. He then went on to put up 46 points in 52 games as a rookie with the Saskatoon Blades. In Canada’s only pre-tournament game against Czech Republic, Dach skated on a line with team captain Alexis Lafreniere, who appears to be the consensus #1 overall pick in 2020 due to a late 2001 birthday, and fellow WHLer Peyton Krebs, who led all WHL rookies in scoring last season.
Between the pipes, Nolan Maier will relish the role as the last line of defence for a deadly Canadian squad. The product of Yorkton will share the responsibilities with Taylor Gauthier of the Prince George Cougars. Gauthier got the nod in the only pre-tournament game in which Canada fell 4-3 to Czech Republic. During the selection camp, not only did Maier post a save percentage of .920, he also went a perfect 2-0.
The first test for Team Canada to defend their title goes on Monday evening at 7:00pm from Rogers Place in Edmonton against Switzerland. On Tuesday, the Canadians will Slovakia and then wrap up the preliminary round on Wednesday night against Sweden. The United States, Russia, Finland, and Czech Republic will compete in Group B.
Thursday is an off-day with the semi-finals taking place on Friday. First place in Group A will play second place in Group B and vice-versa. The bronze and gold medal games are slated for 3:00pm and 7:00pm at Rogers Place on Saturday.
All of Canada’s games will be broadcast on TSN. Live stats for tonight’s game can be found by clicking here.
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