Saturday, July 16, 2011

2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament

Only a couple of weeks have passed since the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but we are now less than a month away for the first international event that will showcase a good portion of the draft class of 2012 together. The annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the first of two major U18 tournaments on the international hockey calendar, runs August 8 to 13 in Břeclav, Czech Republic and Piešťany, Slovakia. It is the ninth straight year that the two cities, located 90 kilometres apart, have co-hosted the event.

What originally began in 1991 as the Pacific Cup, hosted by Japan, the summer U18 tournament evolved into the "Junior World Cup" and was given its current name in 2007, following the death of Czech hockey legend Ivan Hlinka.

The tournament is viewed differently in different countries.

To many of the European teams, it is just the first of a series of tournaments that their national U18 teams will partake in over the course of the season, in preparation of the much-more important IIHF U18 World Championship, which takes place in April. This is particuarly for countries like Sweden and Finland, who have relatively few of their top prospects playing in North America. Sweden's Filip Forsberg is on Sweden's roster for this year's Ivan Hlinka Tournament, while Finland's Olli Määttä will miss it, instead taking part in a U20 tournament in Lake Placid, USA.

Czech fans could get their only chance this season
to see Petr Šidlík (#4) in Břeclav this August.
For other countries, such as the host Czechs and Slovaks, a large number of their top prospects play in the CHL, North America's top tier of junior hockey, whose playoffs run concurrent to the World Championship in April. For many of these players, this will be their only appearance with their national teams at the U18 level. In 2010, this was the case for Czech twin brothers Richard and Ondřej Zehnal, who now ply their trades in the USHL and WHL, respectively. This year, there are five players who were chosen in the recent CHL Import Draft who might represent the Czechs and could head overseas for the coming season. Some people think that that these players, who might not be around in April, shouldn't take roster spots away from domestic players who are more likely to compete in the World Championships, which the Czech Republic will host in April 2012. Petr Šidlík, Radek Faksa, Patrik Machač, Dominik Volek and Michal Plutnar were all chosen by CHL clubs and, though they might not be available in April, they are expected to be seen in August.

"We have invited the five (drafted players) to (the summer selection camp in) Třemošná, from which we will select the squad for the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka in August," said Czech U18 coach Jiří Veber. "From that, I don't want to say that the selection of the U18 team is final. There are a lot of games to be played this season, and if some of the other players earn it, they'll get a chance."

Canada and USA battle in the 2010 final in Piešťany.
In the United States, their National Team Development Program is geared entirely toward April's U18 World Championship tournament, where they perennially dominate, whereas they have won gold only once at the August tournament, which is given less attention. Despite winning silver in 2010, only one player, defenceman Connor Murphy, came from the previous year's U17 team. He was also the only member to eventually play in the 2011 U18 Championships in Germany, where he scored the overtime-winning goal in the gold-medal game. The only member of last year's U17 team that will be on the Ivan Hlinka roster this year will be Brendan Silk.

In Canada, the tournament represents the biggest international event on the U18 calendar, and it shows in the results. In the 20 tournaments from 1991 to 2010, Canada has won 15 of them. Meanwhile, at the IIHF U18 World Championships in April, they have won gold only twice in 12 years.

Canada's top prospect in the 2012 draft, third-ranked Ryan Murray, is a late-93 birth, and is therefore ineligible to play. However, top-20 participants should include Griffin Reinhart, Slater Koekkoek, Morgan Reilly, Matia Marcuontoni, Matt Dumba, and Brendan Gaunce.

Of course, the biggest attraction of this year's tournament will probably be top-ranked Russian Mikhail Grigorenko. Nail Yakupov, who's ranked second, is ineligible, like Murray, but ninth-ranked Alexander Galchenyuk is eligible.

Canada and the US will play exhibition games against the two host teams on Saturday, August 6, before the tournament begins Monday. The Czech Republic hosts the group in
Břeclav, which also includes Canada, Sweden and Switzerland. in Piešťany, Slovakia hosts Finland, Russia and the USA. All teams play three games in a row and finish the group stage Wednesday, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semifinals on Friday. The medal games will be played on Saturday, August 13. 

Which teams play in which locations on Friday and Saturday will depend on the placing of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Each of these teams will play at home on these days, unless they play each other. In that case, the designated "home" team will host the game.  

Czech Hockey Report will be live on location at group games in Břeclav, and at semifinal and final games in either Břeclav or Piešťany.

Pre-tournament exhibition games:

Saturday, August 6:
 17:30 Slovakia - Canada (Piešťany)
 18:30 Czech Republic - USA (Břeclav)

2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament schedule:

Monday, August 8:
 14:00 Finland - USA (Piešťany)
 15:30 Canada - Sweden (Břeclav)
 17:30 Slovakia - Russia (Piešťany)
 19:00 Czech Republic - Switzerland (Břeclav)

Tuesday, August 9:
 14:00 USA - Russia (Piešťany)
 15:30 Switzerland - Canada (Břeclav)
 17:30 Slovakia - Finland (Piešťany)
 19:00 Czech Republic - Sweden (Břeclav)

Wednesday, August 10:
 14:00 Russia - Finland (Piešťany)
 15:30 Sweden - Switzerland (Břeclav)
 17:30 Slovakia - USA (Piešťany)
 19:00 Czech Republic - Canada (Břeclav)

Friday, August 12:
 14:00 A4 - B4 or A3 - B3 (Piešťany)
 15:30 A4 - B4 or A3 - B3 (Břeclav)
 17:30 Semifinal B1 - A2 (Piešťany)
 19:00 Semifinal A1 - B2 (Břeclav)

Saturday, August 13:
 15:00 Final or bronze-medal game (Piešťany)
 17:00 Final or bronze-medal game (Břeclav)

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