Through five games at the 2019 IIHF world championship, Red Wings defenseman Filip Hronek led all blueliners with three goals and four assists for seven points while representing his native Czech Republic for the second year in a row.
Last year, they lost to Team USA in the quarterfinals. This year, they're hoping to play for a medal.
"We have a really good team here and a bunch of good players," the 21-year-old said. "We have a lot of fans here in Bratislava and they are really helping us and supporting us and, of course, our goal is to play for a medal. We think we can do it, but we want to get a good place in the quarterfinals first."
The Czechs are 4-1 with games against Austria and Switzerland left in the preliminary round.
They could finish as high as first and can finish no lower than fourth and are assured a spot in the quarterfinals, thanks in large part to what Hronek is doing on both sides of the puck.
Last year at this tournament, Hronek was coming off his first professional season in Grand Rapids and said the experience was eye-opening.
"Last year helped me a lot. The players are better here and you have to be ready every shift," he said. "It helped me get better in the D-zone and improve my defensive game. I improved my gap. I can close on players better now and make better decisions faster. I was better this year because of what I learned there."
This season, Hronek split the year between Detroit and Grand Rapids, recording a combined 12 goals and 35 assists for 47 points in 77 games.
Jiri Fischer, the director of player evaluation for the Red Wings and general manager for last year's Czech national team, said the biggest improvement from him has been his ability to impact the game.
"Last year, he was a young defenseman that wanted to make things happen and this year he is a defenseman that's making things happen," he said of the 6-foot, 170-pound blueliner. "Plus, he's much more confident. He's got more swagger and is more in control than he was last year and all that leads to more ice time and getting more pucks from his teammates, which leads to more offensive opportunities."
Hronek said that after last year's world championship, he realized there was a lot for him to work on.
"You're playing some of the best players in the world and you see that you have so many things to work on. It's up to you to do it," he said. "Last summer, I wanted to improve everything, but especially my defensive game and making better decisions. I needed to be better mentally and use my instincts more. Not think too much and just play hockey. I also wanted to play the same all the time."
Fischer said he also saw a shift in Hronek's mindset that helped him find more success this past season.
"At the start of last year, he was asking himself why he wasn't playing more, but once he stopped looking at everyone else and started looking at himself, his mindset changed and he focused on getting better," he explained. "He went from being a healthy scratch to start the season to the No. 1 defenseman in the American League by the end of the season and this year he got called up and spent a lot of time in Detroit when the opportunity opened up because of injuries.
"All of the work he put into his defensive game and getting stronger and making better passes paid off," Fischer continued. "I hope he takes another step this next year and really becomes a defenseman that everybody wants to have on their team."
While he plans to work just as hard this summer in hopes of earning a full-time roster spot in Detroit this fall, for now, Hronek is quick to remind you that his season isn't over.
He's focused on doing whatever he can to help his national team win a medal at the world championship.
"I want to get stronger and faster and just work on everything, but I'm not done here yet," Hronek said. "There's still more I can learn here. These games can move me forward, but right now, I feel good, the team is playing good and we think we can do something special."
Czech Republic takes on Austria on Sunday and closes out the preliminary round on Tuesday against Switzerland.