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Canada eyes ninth straight gold medal at Ivan Hlinka

Hope to continue dominance at under-18 tournament that runs Aug. 8-13

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

CALGARY -- Canada is well aware of the run it is trying to defend at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August.

The process of winning a ninth consecutive gold medal started Friday with Canada's National Men's Summer Under-18 Team selection camp at Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary. 

"It's Team Canada and you're wearing the Maple Leaf on your sweater…all the guys know what's at stake," forward Matthew Strome, of Hamilton of the Ontario Hockey League and one of 44 skaters in attendance at the selection camp, said. "It's high intensity. I think there's a little bit of pressure. All the guys here know what's on the line."

The tournament will take place in Breclav, Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovakia, from Aug. 8-13.

"It's a huge honor for all of us that are involved," coach Paul McFarland said. "Anytime we get to be involved with Team Canada it's something special and something you can't take for granted. Everyone has the passion and the pride that goes along with putting on that jersey."

McFarland, who is coach of Kingston of the OHL, will have assistants Mark French of the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League and Darren Rumble of Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Canada has won the gold medal 11 of the past 12 and 18 of the past 20 Ivan Hlinka tournaments since 1996. The United States won gold in 2003 and Sweden won in 2007.

Overall, Canada has won gold 20 times at the Ivan Hlinka since it began in 1991.

The players, like the coaches, are aware of Canada's success in the past.

"Even in the quick meetings we've had…it's eight in a row again," Mississauga (OHL) forward Owen Tippett said. "It's important for Canada. You don't want to be the team to mess that up. It's important. You get the feeling of what it's like playing in the U-17 and U-18 playing internationally. You want to bring it to the Ivan Hlinka."

Tippett and forward Gabe Vilardi of Windsor of the OHL can sense the importance of gold. Vilardi, with Strome and Tippett, was named to Central Scouting's Futures List for North American and European skaters in early July.

"Nerves are there," Vilardi said. "They'll always be there when you wear the Canada jersey. It's more thinking about what you need to do. They said it earlier…eight in a row. Those are some pretty high expectations. But it's the first day of camp. We'll take it day-by-day and progress as the days go on."

The Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup is not only the unofficial start of the 2016-17 season for draft eligible players, but also begins the evaluation process for the 2017 NHL Draft, to be held at United Center in Chicago on June 23 and 24.  

"I'm excited for it," Tippett said. "Even playing on a team with guys that went through it last year, I see how hard they worked, the interviews they had to go through. It's exciting. It's still far away so I'm not trying to think about it too much but it's in the back of my mind. At the end of the day I just have to play hockey and be the player I can. You've got to look at it as a long-term thing.

"I've got stuff before that I need to focus on."

Tippett's immediate focus is on the Ivan Hlinka tournament, which also has Strome's attention.

"We all want to win and be a world champion," he said. "Everyone's going to work as hard as they can to make it nine in a row."

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