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Top prospects on display in Hlinka tournament

by Adam Schwartz /

Nikita Filatov, the first European player selected during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, helped lead Russia to a bronze medal in last season's Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. sits down with Nikita Filatov
A key stop for a top-end NHL prospect is the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. How key? Consider five of the top six picks in the 2008 Entry Draft played in the last two tournaments.

Still not impressed? Well how about nine out of the top 20 picks played for Team Canada in the past two tournaments?

Ivan Hlinka was a great Czech player who died on a car accident on Aug. 16, 2004 at age 54. After a strong European career, Hlinka had played for the Vancouver Canucks starting in 1981. He scored 42 goals and 81 assists in 137 NHL games and was part of the Canucks team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1982. He had coached the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2000-01 and 4 games into the 2001-02 season. Hlinka is best remembered for coaching the Czech Republic to the gold medal at the Nagano Olympics.

Unlike the Under-18 World Championship, the Ivan Hlinka Tournament is scheduled for August when players aren’t with their regular teams and can make an international commitment. The puck drops Aug. 12 and runs through Aug. 16 in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany in Slovakia. Teams from Canada, the United States, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Russia, Finland and Switzerland will take part.

Alex Pietrangelo, who was picked No. 4 by the St. Louis Blues in the 2008 draft, had the chance to play in this tournament, but couldn’t play in the Under-18 World Championship because he was playing for thr Niagara IceDogs in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

“There is no better feeling than putting on your country's colors, and putting that jersey on is the best feeling in it the world,” Pietrangelo said. “We may not have done as well as we thought, but the experience was tremendous.” 

Tyler Cuma, selected No. 23 by the Minnesota Wild, was honored just to be invited to the club’s training camp. Cuma is aware of the history of the tournament and the opportunity to play against the best players in the world in his age group.

“Even being selected as one of the few to try out for the team –– I was very happy for myself,” Cuma said. “I was proud of what I could do. Thinking of previous players that have been in that dressing room in the past, and actually being selected for that team and getting to put on that Canadian jersey, it's every kid's dream … getting to play for their country.  It was a lot of fun playing with guys that you're used to playing against and meeting new guys from different leagues. Going overseas, seeing the competition that they have in Europe and in the U.S. and whatnot.  I guess playing in that tournament, it definitely broadened my horizons to see what talent is out there. Just getting to play for my country was good enough for me.”

Cuma scored one goal, and the Canadians were disappointed in last season’s tournament when they lost, 5-4, to a Russian team that included Nikita Filatov – selected No. 6 by the Columbus Blue Jackets in ‘08 – in the bronze-medal game.

Filatov, who was able to crack the Russian World Junior roster last winter, is excited to represent Russia internationally and said that it is different than playing for a club team.

“Every time I play for team Russia I’m very proud of it,” Filatov said. “It's not like in the club, I like it so much.”

Another member of Team Canada in last year’s tournament, Jordan Eberle – picked No. 22 by the Edmonton Oilers – got the opportunity of a lifetime to play alongside Steven Stamkos, who was drafted No. 1 by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008.

“We played on a line together in peewee for a pickup team at a tournament in Boston, and we did pretty well,” Eberle said. “And all three of us (including linemate James Wright of the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants) put up some pretty good points with our CHL (Canadian Hockey League) teams, and together, I think we (are) a pretty good line.”

John Carlson, drafted No. 27 by the Washington Capitals, relished his experience to play for the United States against Europeans at last season’s tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

“I definitely think that the experience I had overseas was great,” Carlson said. “It was a feeling unlike any other thing when you throw on the jersey with 'Team USA' on the front.  I've never gotten that before, and I've never experienced playing against European players or anything like that.  It's a great experience for me overall.”

While the United States and Canada typically have a good opportunity to win the tournament, other countries such as Switzerland simply hope to contend with the hockey superpowers of the world.

Luca Sbisa, drafted No. 19 by the Philadelphia Flyers, played for the Swiss. Even though Switzerland lost all three games they played, Sbisa realized the valuable experience the he gained.

“I played last August at the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial,” Sbisa said. “We had a good tournament even though we lost like every game. We had good games but at the end just the wins count.”

While the Under-18 World Championship may receive more recognition, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament may contain more future NHL stars.  

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