BRECLAV/PIESTANY – The Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for U18 national teams that has been staged in the Czech Republic and Slovakia each year in August since 1997 kicked off on Monday.
The event is highly anticipated especially among NHL scouts, who populate the stands in Breclav and Piestany more than any other group of spectators.
It’s their best opportunity prior to the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship each spring to follow potential draft candidates that may, or may not, evolve into NHL stars.
Since 2007 the tournament is named after the late Ivan Hlinka, a highly regarded Czech coach who led the Pittsburgh Pengiuns for a little more than one season from to 2000 to 2001 and passed away in a car accident in 2004.
The eight teams widely regarded as the top-eight nations in the world play a preliminary round in two groups until Wednesday, followed by semi-finals and placement games on Friday and the medal games on Saturday.
The most anticipated game on the opening day among the horde of scouts was the early game in Breclav, a prestige clash between Russia and the United States.
Russia was a dominant force in the U18 category in the early 2000s, winning gold in 2001, 2004 and 2007. But USA Hockey substantially improved its U18 program thanks to the centralized U17 and U18 teams of the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. The Americans won the U18 World Championship the last four times it was played and aim for the fifth straight gold at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Sochi, Russia, next spring.
At the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, Team USA didn’t enjoy the same success as the last four editions were won by Canada, but it kept up with its ambitions at the beginning of the game against Russia as Justin Bailey opened the scoring on a man advantage at 1:03 of the second period.
But the Russians became stronger after conceding the first goal. While the Americans outshot Russia 14-8 in the first period, Russia had 39-37 shots on goal in total.
“We didn’t move enough in the second period and gave the neutral zone to the opponent,” analyzed Russian head coach Igor Belyayevski. “We corrected our game in the third period and put more pressure on the Americans so we were to stage a comeback win.”
The United States’ netminder Thatcher Demko kept his team into the game, but at 6:18 of the third period it was Pavel Buchnevich who tied the game, forcing a five-minute extra period and eventually a shootout. Sergei Tolchinski scored the game-winner as Russia won the penalty shot competition 2-1.
“It was a hard-fought game. We battled, but we got tired and they made use of it,” said Team USA captain Mike Downing. “We should probably have won the game in overtime when we had few chances, but in the game of hockey stuff like that happen.”
For the 17-year-old from the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints it was the first time he played for the U.S. U18 national team.
“But I play in the league against 20-year-olds, so the level wasn’t that much of a difference,” he said.
“It’s just a great competition with so many skilled guys on the Russian team. It’s totally different to play against a Russian team. Our coach prepared us well and showed us how they play. After the game against Russia we need to win the other games to make it to the semi-final, so we just focus on the next game.”
The other three match-ups on day one ended with wins for the favourites, although not easy ones.
The first game was initiated with a surprise as Tim Wieser brought Switzerland the lead over reigning champion Canada. Despite being outshot 31-25, the Canadians managed to earn a 4-1 win with four unanswered goals from Curtis Lazar, Nathan MacKinnon, Nick Ritchie and Yan-Pavel Laplante, and thanks to a 30-save performance by Zachary Fucale.
The late game in Piestany was won by the favourite as well. Sweden defeated host Slovakia 7-3. The ten goals were scored by as many players.
The other Hlinka tournament hosts, the Czech Republic, lost their game as well. Finland earned a two-goal lead after less than five minutes of play with goals from Jonatan Tanus and Janne Puhakka to eventually defeat the Czechs 2-1.
Group A in Breclav (CZE): Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, USA
Group B in Piestany (SVK): Canada, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland
Schedule & Scores:
Monday, 13 August 2012
In Piestany (14:00): Switzerland vs. Canada 1-4
In Breclav (15:30): USA vs. Russia 1-2 SO
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Sweden 3-7
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Finland 1-2
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
In Piestany (14:00): Canada vs. Sweden
In Breclav (15:30): Russia vs. Finland
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Switzerland
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. USA
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
In Piestany (14:00): Sweden vs. Switzerland
In Breclav (15:30): Finland vs. USA
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Canada
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Russia
Friday, 17 August 2012
Saturday, 18 August 2012
Bronze medal game
Gold medal game