PIESTANY, Slovakia – Canada’s U18 national team won the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for the third straight time after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored at 1:42 into the first period in a 1-0 win against Team USA.
It was no coincidence that Nugent-Hopkins scored the game-winner as he was one of the flashiest players in the tournament and probably well represented in the NHL scouts’ notebooks. Nugent-Hopkins, this year’s WHL Rookie of the Year, was one of many players in their last U18 year and who becomes eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in 2011.
Although the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament is just one of several invitational tournaments for U18 national teams, it gives an early indication of the talent level of the current draft class and it attracts a considerable troop of scouts to the venues in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is widely recognized as the best U18 tournament leading up to the IIHF World U18 Championship in April.
The tournament is of importance most notably for Canada because it’s the only tournament the U18 national team plays with all players available.
Canada made its way to the final by defeating Sweden (6-3), Switzerland (7-3), Slovakia (6-1) and the Czech Republic (6-2) before edging the U.S. in the final.
The Americans also won their group after wins against the Czech Republic, Finland and despite an overtime loss against Russia. They reached the final following a 6-5 overtime win against Sweden.
The final game was a different story for both teams as this was basically the only low-scoring affair of the tournament.
“To go 59 minutes thereafter with no more goals was somewhat unexpected,” Team Canada coach George Burnett said. “There were a lot of ups and downs through the first 40 minutes, but I thought our team really settled down, and we may have only given up only one quality scoring chance in the third period. When you put the time in that these guys have to prepare and go through this whole thing, and to come out on top, it's a pretty special feeling.”
Canada outshot the Americans 24-22. Canada’s Tyson Teichmann celebrated a shutout while U.S. netminder Steven Michalek had 23 saves.
“Our guys gave it everything they had,” said U.S. head coach Tim Army. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more from these players, who really came together in a short period of time and played well against tough international competition all week.”
Nugent-Hopkins was Canada’s scoring leader with five goals and two assists. He was outnumbered only by Swedish forward Joachim Nermark. The centre, who transferred from Leksand to Linköping this season, had five goals and six assists in five games.
The 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship takes place in Germany, April 14-24.