BRECLAV, Czech Republic – Ten years to the day of Ivan Hlinka’s tragic death, Canada defeated the Czech Republic 6-2 to win its seventh-straight title at the tournament named for the Czech icon.
Canada now claims 19 gold medals in 24 editions (the inaugural tournament occurred in 1991) of the annual U18 showcase competition held in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Dylan Strome scored 3:34 into the opening frame, en route to a four-goal output in the first 20 minutes. Mitchell Marner led all scorers with a goal and two assists for Canada, while Lawson Crouse was responsible for two additional markers.
"It is a dream that comes true,” said Strome. “I definitely wanted to win that cup.”
“It feels amazing to put the hands on that Cup. We had a great bunch of guys here and we deserved it to win it again," he added.
Strome and Marner are considered two huge Canadian center prospects, both featured on the 2014-15 Central Scouting Futures List along with Matt Barzal whom experts expect to be a top-ten selection in the upcoming NHL Draft.
Lukas Jasek and Radek Koblizek scored for the Czechs – both goals coming in the second period.
Both Canada and the Czech Republic entered the title game with perfect 4-0 records thanks in large part to superb defense and goaltending.
The Czechs swept through the United States, Finland, Sweden and Russia, outscoring their opponents 19-7. The Russian defeat alone saw a lopsided 11-2 result.
A similar story played out for Canada, knocking off Switzerland, Sweden, the U.S. and Slovakia, allowing just three goals, while posting 15 tallies. Canada advanced to the final after a wild, lopsided 11-5 victory over rival USA.
"Those guys deserved the win for Canada,” Canada head coach Jody Hull boasted.
“It was a great experience for all of us. We had seven games that we all won. And that says a lot about our determination on the ice. We did not feel any pressure to win that cup, but the feeling to achieve that goal is great."
Serving as Ivan Hlinka runner-up six times, the Czech’s silver medal matches their strong silver medal showing at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship – signaling a rejuvenation of the country’s junior hockey program, which boasts the likes of Ondrej Palat and Tomas Hertl in the NHL and Pavel Zacha on the verge of making his mark on North American hockey.
(For more on the Czech’s recent surge at the junior level, click here
In the bronze medal game, the United States defeated Sweden 5-4 with a sudden death goal from Dennis Yan 4:03 into overtime.
The U.S. enjoyed a 4-2 lead in the third period, but Sweden stormed back to tie with goals from Linus Olund and Rasmus Asplund.
Asplund’s clutch equalizer came with just 90 ticks remaining in the third frame – banging home a rebound off a Matthew Jurusik shot that laid in front of a gaping net.
Team USA follows up on its 2013 silver medal making it back-to-back Ivan Hlinkas on the podium. The U.S. were the gold medalists at the 2014 U18 World Championship as well.
It must be noted that many experts take less stock in this tournament because the United States does not send it’s best under-18 players from the National Team Develop Program.
Regardless, this version of the U.S. team featured six players on the 2014-15 NHL Central Scouting Futures List, including: Karch Bachman, Brock Boeser, Brent Gates, Thomas Novak, Tory Dello and Doug Blaisdell.
Novak led all tournament scorers with 11 points, from five goals and six assists in five appearances. Yan and Boeser finished tied for second in scoring, each adding eight points.
It’s the second straight Ivan Hlinka tournament without a medal for Sweden, a team known for its exceedingly strong junior system.
Nevertheless, Sweden boasts one of the deepest junior systems, highlighted by defenseman Oliver Kylington – one of the most gifted, fastest skaters in the world. Kylington is expected to be the second blueliner selected in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft behind Noah Hanifin (USA).
Kylington ended his tournament with a goal and two assists in 5 games as Sweden finished just one spot from a medal.
Finland, Switzerland, Russia and co-host Slovakia took the remaining four positions of the tournament.
Ivan Hlinka won three World Championship titles in 1972, 1976 and 1977, Olympic silver in 1976 and bronze in 1972, and also played in the 1976 Canada Cup final. He wore the national team jersey in 256 games, including a three-year spell when he was a captain of the team (1977-80) and scored 123 goals.
Hlinka also pioneered Czechoslovak player migration to the NHL in 1981, when he and Jiri Bubla joined the Vancouver Canucks, becoming the first two men to get permission to play in North America.
Hlinka set a Canucks rookie record with 60 points in his first season and subsequently, he and Bubla became the first Czechs to ever play in a Stanley Cup Final.
Sadly, the legend died on August 16, 2004, when a speeding truck collided with his car near Karlovy Vary. The tournament began bearing his name in 2007.
URS BERGER (quotes)