Friday marked the end to a disappointing Memorial of Ivan Hlinka for the U.S. Under-18 Select Team. Finishing the preliminary round with no wins, the U.S. was forced to play in the seventh-place game, defeating co-host Slovakia to finish not last.
It’s usually a tough tournament for the U.S., but this year’s results were particularly disappointing due to how close the U.S. came to writing a different story for the Hlinka.
Canada ended up winning the tournament for the fifth straight year, unsurprisingly, defeating Finland 4-0 in the final behind a Nathan Mackinnon hat trick. Sweden took third.
Coming up after the jump, a recap of Team USA’s tournament, statistical leaders and thoughts on the seventh-place finish.
In the first game of the tournament, Team USA surprised many by holding Russia to one goal in regulation and forcing overtime. The U.S. actually had a chance to win that game with Adam Erne getting awarded a penalty shot in overtime. He couldn’t convert, then no one else could in a shootout. Russia’s dynamic Sergei Tolchinski scored the lone goal in the shootout to give his squad the 2-1 win.
Up next, the U.S. faced a Czech team coming off a narrow defeat at the hands of Finland. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead thanks to Erne after the first, penalties got the best of the U.S. throughout. The Czechs scored twice in the second and three times in the third to earn the 5-2 win.
The U.S. was still alive, however. A regulation win against Finland and a Czech regulation loss to the Russians would have allowed Team USA to sneak into the semis.
Finland, despite being without its top 1995-born players in Aleksander Barkov and Arturri Lehkonen, showed some serious scoring prowess. After the Finns grabbed a 2-1 lead after one, the second period got crazy. A total of seven goals were scored, with both teams trading blows. At the end of the period, the U.S. managed to tie it up 5-5. With the game and their tournament lives in the balance, things went south in a hurry, as two quick goals to start the period from Finland all but ended the U.S. hopes. A late goal from Vinni Lettieri provided some hope, but Finland iced the game with an empty-netter, sending the U.S. to the seventh-place game with only one point in the standings after the prelims.
The U.S. at least ended on a high note with a 5-3 win over co-host Slovakia, but that’s little consolation for the worst finish at the tournament for the U.S. since 2008.
Team USA Statistical Leaders
Adam Erne (F) — 5-2–7
Gabe Guertler (F) — 3-3–6
Anthony DeAngelo (D) — 0-6–6
Vinni Lettieri (F) — 2-3–5
Justin Bailey (F) — 2-0–2
Thatcher Demko — 1-0-1-2, 3.27 GAA, .895 SV%
Though I wasn’t able to watch, here are some notes from the tournament, both the good and the bad.
Adam Erne, though he did miss that crucial penalty shot against Russia, had a productive tournament. He scored five goals in Team USA’s last three games and finished the tournament with a team-high seven points. Erne has been one of the best players in this age group for some time now, but a lot of that was due to the fact that he was just plain bigger than everyone else. That said, he proved he could play at a highly productive level in the QMJHL last year as a 16-year-old. If he keeps it up this year, he is a likely first-rounder. Getting five goals in three games is a pretty nice way to head into the draft season, individually.
A six-assist effort for Anthony DeAngelo is pretty encouraging for the Sarnia Sting defenseman. After getting benched during last year’s U17 Five Nations Cup, I wasn’t even sure they’d bring him back, but it was probably good that they did. He had three helpers in the 5-3 win over Slovakia. He’s known for his offensive game and while not Draft-eligible until 2014, he should draw plenty of eyeballs playing in Sarnia this season.
Even though it was a losing effort, Thatcher Demko made 38 saves against a Russian squad with good depth of skill and allowed just one goal in the shootout. Demko also made 25 stops in the pre-tournament game against Slovakia, sharing a shutout with Devin Williams. He had a rough one against the Czechs and came on relief against Finland, but had a 32-save effort against Slovakia in the end. He’s not draft-eligible until 2014, but he’s worth following due to his good size and ability.
Among the real troubling facts coming out of this tournament, the U.S. received penalty shots in three different games. In a short tournament like this, that’s unheard of. Only problem was, they didn’t score on any of them. On top of that, not one of three shooters could score in the shootout against Russia. That’s six penalty shots missed in one tournament. Shootouts have never been the strong suit for U.S. teams. It may not seem like a big problem, but it’s certainly worth noting. As this tournament shows, winning a shootout could be the difference from making the semis and playing in the seventh-place game.
This weekend I got several tweets and emails asking why USA Hockey “doesn’t care” about this tournament or why the NTDP players don’t play.
There are a few answers. To answer he first question, USA Hockey cares about this tournament, but not to the degree Canada does. To be honest, most of the other countries don’t take it as seriously as Canada does. With the CHL playoffs leaving many of Canada’s best players unavailable for the World U18 Championship, the Hlinka is the big tournament for Hockey Canada’s U18 players. Russia, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were all missing some top players.
This is not to say USA Hockey or the other federations don’t want to win the Hlinka. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As Herm Edwards once screamed, “You play to win the game.” That’s true for this tournament as well. However, the real value of the Hlinka for USA Hockey is to give more players international experience and exposure, which is exactly why the NTDP players don’t play.
The team USA Hockey sends to the U18 World Championship in April, the marquee event for the age group, is almost exclusively made up of players from the NTDP. So the Hlinka, which kind of mirrors the U18 Worlds format (minus two teams and one playoff round), is an opportunity for USA Hockey to send more players to international tournaments and get that important experience for the World Juniors and beyond.
Now, even with that in mind, the result is unfortunate. Since USA doesn’t send 100 percent of its best players in the birth class, this is an opportunity to see how the depth of the class stacks up. With the gains made by Americans in the NHL and in international play, you’d expect the depth to be, well, pretty deep. A seventh-place finish obviously doesn’t provide much confidence in that. So you can’t completely write off and be OK with a seventh-place finish.
However, not to make excuses for the team, it is important to note that two of the top players in the birth year from outside the NTDP were not made available by their club for the Ivan Hlinka. In a tournament like this, two players could have made a huge difference.
Ian McCoshen and Taylor Cammarata are probably the best 1995-born players in the USHL going into the season. Both play for the Waterloo Black Hawks. That club recently traveled over to Omsk, Russia, to play in the World Junior Club Cup, which began Sunday, features junior clubs from around the world — including the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves representing Canada.
Both NHL scouts and USA Hockey officials I spoke to sounded miffed by McCoshen and Cammarata not being at the Hlinka, which by all accounts is the higher-exposure event.
To have that pair might have made things at least a little different for Team USA as Cammarata was the USHL’s rookie of the year in 2011-12 and McCoshen could be the top American defenseman available for the NHL Draft in 2013. So, impact players.
I understand the frustration from scouts and USA Hockey, but I also understand why the USHL and Waterloo wanted them in Russia.
At the end of the day, it was really unfortunate timing. The team chosen to represent the USHL in the World Junior Club Cup also happened to have the two of the best American 1995-born players on the roster. Tough circumstance.
With or without McCoshen and Cammarata, the U.S. probably should have been better than seventh place, especially since they weren’t the only country missing several top players.
Yes, finishing seventh in a summer tournament is disappointing, but it is certainly not defining. The experience gained by the players is what will stand the test of time, not the final result.
There are quite a few goal videos from the Hlinka on YouTube from user DrPabloRamierez. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot from Team USA games. Here’s a look at Karson Kuhlman’s pretty goal from the 6-0 pre-tournament win over Slovakia though (starting at 0:50 mark).