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Player Blog: Vatrano on World Championship, Playing with Jack Hughes

by Frank Vatrano @Frank_Vatrano / FloridaPanthers.com

It's really different taking the ice when you're wearing the Red, White and Blue.

I'd played for Team USA previously at the 2016 World Championship, but the experience was a lot different this time around, especially with the roster that we had. We had a lot of all-stars and guys that are superstars in the NHL, so my role wasn't exactly the same as my last tournament.

I wasn't as established during my first Worlds trip, but I still had that role of being a guy whose job it was to go out there, score goals and do what I do. This time around, I had a different role, but I was OK with that. When you put that jersey on, you know you're not playing for yourself.

When you play for Team USA, you're playing for your country and for your teammates. We all had the same goal, which was to win a gold medal. From the moment I got to Slovakia, I was ready to play whatever role they gave me and make the most out of every minute I was given.

I really think that we had one of the best teams on paper, so it's unfortunate that we didn't end up with a medal. I think we finished in seventh place or something. That was a downer for us, but going over there was still a good experience. Playing for your country is a dream come true.

You don't have a lot of time in between the end of the regular season and the Worlds, so I was just trying to get back into the swing of things, skating a couple of times before I flew over there. There were some adjustments, but once you get over there and acclimated to the big ice, get in a couple of shifts and start getting back into the game, your hockey sense starts to take over. So, yeah, the first couple of shifts were a bit tough.

Tweet from @IIHFHockey: Bing, bang, BOOM@Frank_Vatrano buries it on a break with Ryan @usahockey @FlaPanthers #DENUSA #IIHFWorldsStay up to the minute with game action on the IIHF App: ��� https://t.co/PDQtNtuJxc������ https://t.co/yImldTg3TU pic.twitter.com/1f74fmcPOc

It's hard to come together as a team that quickly, but most of the guys you play with on Team USA are guys that you've already built relationships with over the years from playing with either at other tournaments or with the U.S. National Development Team. Still, we'd played together a lot less than some of the other countries. We had one or two practices to gel, which is difficult.

Like I said, I had a different role at this year's tournament, but I still had a chance to play with some great players, like Jack Hughes, who's the top-ranked skater heading into this year's NHL Draft. For an 18-year-old kid, he's definitely got that swagger. He's going to be a great player in the league. He's obviously a smaller guy, but he's probably one of the most-skilled players I've ever been on the ice with, or even just seen. When he develops into his body and becomes that player he can be, he's going be something special. He's going to be a top, top talent in the NHL, and I'm excited to see his career progress. I'm excited to see where he ends up at the draft.

It was also nice to see a few of my Panthers teammates over there.

I caught up with Evgenii Dadonov a little bit after we lost to his Russia in the quarterfinals, and Juho Lammikko was staying at my hotel, so I chatted with him a little bit too. It's always great to spend time with your teammates after the season's ended. And, even though it was tough that we ended up on the wrong side of things, it was nice to see a good friend like Lammy [Lammikko] win gold.

As a country, Slovakia was definitely different, for sure. We were in the city of Kosice, which is the second-biggest city in the country. It's cool to see how different cultures are and how the people were over there. We also went over to Bratislava, the capital, for a couple of days for the medal rounds, which was almost the opposite of how things were in Kosice. When you walked around Bratislava, it felt a little bit more like a city, a little bit like what you're used to back home.

We were pretty busy, but my teammates and I had a chance to grab a few dinners while we were over there. Those are always the best times. It's funny, but some of the best times I had was just enjoying downtime in the hotel. I brought my XBOX over there, so we had some NHL 19 tournaments and some Fortnite. It was nice to spend time with guys I don't see a lot.

Hockey's our life. It's what we dedicate ourselves to. We don't always mean to talk about it all the time, but it's something that sparks up in all of our conversations because it's always on our minds. With a bunch of NHL guys all being together like that, we obviously talked about it a lot.

I spoke to some guys from the [Chicago] Blackhawks like Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane about Coach Q. I think his coaching record, his experience and his Stanley Cups speaks for itself, but it was nice to hear all of the good things they had to say about him. I know guys want to play for him and want to go to battle for him, which is great to hear. I'm so excited to get started with him.

Overall, it was nice to extend my season after missing the playoffs. The tournament wrapped up in May, and I haven't really taken any time off since getting back home to Massachusetts. I just started skating and training, which is a big stepping-stone for me going into the summer. I had a chance to play for my country, and now I'm taking what I learned into next season with Florida.

See you all in October.

*Photo courtesy of Matt Zambonin*

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