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'GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO IMPROVE'

Hanifin using world championship to work on his offensive game

by AARON VICKERS @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

KOSICE, Slovakia - Noah Hanifin, both understandably and predictably, has an absolute fondness for the red, white and blue, and, of course, reps those colours proudly.

But few have done it so consistently.

Even if he's just 22.

The Boston product, just a four-year pro, has answered the call every time.

Always jumping at the chance.

"It's always an honor to represent your country and I love doing it," said Hanifin, currently anchoring Team USA's defence at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. "The experience is great. You get to play with new guys and meet new players. Even being out here in practice, look at our team … we have so many high-end players."

He's in a privileged spot, for sure. 

But Hanifin has put himself there, though.

The 6-foot-3, 215-lb. blueliner has, prior to and after turning pro, been counted on by USA Hockey.

The stars and stripes came calling at a young age, as Hanifin suited up with the United States National Team Development Program - captaining the U17 squad while also playing games with the U18 group in 2013-14. He again sported the captaincy, that same year, at the

World Under-17 Challenge and, months later, dressed in the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

 

 

After beginning his collegiate career at Boston University, Hanifin played in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. 

Now, he's a three-time participant with the men's program at the World Championship.

Each appearance has come before his 23rd birthday.

Each appearance has served as a learning experience for Hanifin, who already has 319 NHL skates on his resume - leading the 2015 NHL Draft class, 32 more than Edmonton's Connor McDavid.

This year's twirl is no different. 

Hanifin, whose Flames were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five games of the Western Conference First Round against the Colorado Avalanche, isn't in Slovakia for the vacation.  

He is measuring himself on the international stage. 

He's finding ways to improve his play both against the opposition and against his own teammates, too.

"You can always improve your game by going against those guys in practice," said Hanifin, who established a new NHL career-high with 33 points (five goals, 28 assists) while playing almost exclusively with Travis Hamonic on Calgary's second pair this season. "It's great. You obviously want to be in the playoffs and still playing, but this is a great event to come to."

Hanifin, the No. 5 pick from the 2015 draft, has three points, all assists, in five games for Team USA in the tournament. He's a team-best plus-9 with his average ice time hovering just above 23 minutes per game. Only Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and Brady Skjei of the New York Rangers have played more. 

Johnny Gaudreau, watching closely, has seen Hanifin's efforts up close. The two Flames teammates, along with Derek Ryan, have been reunited in Europe.

"He's a smart player," said Gaudreau, himself in his fourth tour representing the American squad. "He's doing well for us here. He's finding the score sheet and playing well defensively. He's putting up big numbers. 

"When you see him do that on a team like this, you look at the all-stars on our team and players that play first d-pair and first powerplay, he's doing it on a team like this and it's good to see because then you're set moving forward."

 

 

That's the plan. 

Hanifin, who has five years remaining on a six-year pact signed last summer with the Flames, is expecting the tournament to add to his game.

Both on the big ice.

And back home.

"I think little things," Hanifin admitted. "It's a little bit different playing on the Olympic sheet, but you skate and try to create offense and you're playing with such a good team like this. Defensively I thought I did a pretty good job with Travis but offensively, I think I can still make strides and get better in my offensive game. 

"This is a great opportunity to improve on that."

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