“There is this kid here, Daniel Tranca and his movement reminds me so much of Anze Kopitar’s when he was at the same age,” said Lahtinen, who a few years earlier had given the current NHL super star his Swedish Hockey League debut for Sodertalje.
“I cannot really say that we are similar. Kopitar plays in NHL, I play here,” said Corona Brasov’s Tranca today when being told about the anecdote. “Lahtinen was a great coach and worked with a lot of players who played in NHL. He used to have good words for me, but never like those you’ve mentioned,” he said.
As fate would have it, there is a possibility that Corona Brasov’s Tranca will go eye to eye against Kopitar of Los Angeles Kings as Romania takes on Slovenia in Ljubljana on 30 April during the 2020 IIHF 2020 Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. Of course, provided that Kopitar will play there. For now it’s only secured that his father Matjaz Kopitar will be the Slovenes’ head coach.
“Yes, I hope so. I hope both of us will be there, and I can face off against him. This is the first time our generation will go to a tournament such as the Division IA. We need to enjoy it and we hope we can stay in that group,” he said of a group that also includes Austria, France, Hungary, Korea and hosts Slovenia.
There is a sense of new-found belief within this current crop of Romanian national team players aided by their recent success. In 2017 Romania languished in the World Championship Division IIA. Two years on, they booked a place at the 2020 World Championship Division IA. What is the secret for the transformation that propelled them up two levels?
“I don’t know if there is a secret, but everybody on this team wants to improve and we are good friends. None of us really believed before the World Championship in Tallinn last year that we could win the Division I Group B. But then after the second or third game we realized that we could go up and I think it was a big thing for us and for Romanian hockey,” said Tranca.
Romania’s captain Roberto Gliga is nine months older than Tranca. Now in their fourth straight season playing for the same club team, Corona Brasov, Gliga describes Tranca’s contribution in glowing terms.
“He’s a really good player and a good guy. He’s smart and got that long stride. He sees the ice very well, shoots well and has been a tremendous help for Romania and the club team especially this season. He is playing his best hockey right now and we can only hope a player like him doesn’t get injured,” said Gliga.
Tranca missed out on Romania’s deciding 10-1 win against Iceland at the 2019 Men's Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 Group K played on home ice in Brasov. Playing in both the Hungarian-based Erste Liga and the domestic championship takes its toll with 100 competitive games being staple diet for a Romanian player during a regular season.
“There are a lot of games. It takes 12 hours one way to travel to the games in Hungary. When we then have a day or two off from games against teams from Hungary we play in the Romanian championship. In a month we can play 20 games so it is tough to play 100 games a year.”
Carrying knocks from a long and arduous season explains why Tranca has so far only represented Romania at three World Championships so far at senior level. But when being present he has made a telling difference. Tranca has won two gold medals in 2015 (Division IIA) and 2019 (Division IB) and never been relegated with Romania. His participation for Romania at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A will therefore be vital for any faint hopes of survival.
The same goes for Romania’s next big test of their growing credentials. They compete at the 2019 Men's Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 3 Group J in Nottingham, Great Britain. Played between 6-9 February 2020, they will take on hosts Great Britain, Hungary and Estonia without any added pressure.
“We will enjoy it. We are not going there as favourites and we are aware of it, but in hockey, you never know,” said Tranca.