When it comes to international experience, few players have worn the red, white and blue more often than Clark Donatelli. With two Olympics, three World Championships and two more World Junior tournaments on his playing resume, not to mention numerous exhibition games, the Providence, R.I., native knows better than most what it means to represent his country.
And now the 49-year-old Donatelli will look to use that experience to help the next generation of Americans to achieve international success when he leads the U.S. Under-18 Select Team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
With a long way to go and a short time to prepare for their first game on Aug. 8 against Finland, Donatelli and his coaching staff of Pat Boller, Dave Lassonde and Phil Osaer have wasted little time in turning this all-star squad of 17-year-olds into a cohesive unit.
Players for the U.S. squad were selected at the conclusion of the 17 & Under Player Development Camp in late June and met up again last weekend in Arlington, Va., where they held a pair of practices at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the training facility for the Washington Capitals.
From there the players and staff flew to Vienna and then bused two and a half hours to Budapest where they will hold a handful of practices before playing an exhibition game against the Hungarian National Junior Team in Budapest and the Slovakian U18 team in Piestany, Slovakia.
“We’ve had some long travel and some really long days but our guys have worked tremendously hard,” Donatelli said. “We picked some really good kids who have a lot of integrity and they really want to win. They’re a close-knit bunch of guys even though they’ve only been together for a short amount of time.”
And that starts with leaving their egos at home and embracing whatever roles the coaches ask them to play.
“It’s all about the team,” he said. “If the team does well they will all be individually recognized.”
Held annually since 1991, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup is the premier showcase for players under the age of 18. Formerly known as the Junior World Cup and Pacific Cup, the tournament was named after Ivan Hlinka, a Czech hockey legend who was killed in a car crash in 2004. Over the years it has introduced players such as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby to the international stage.
The U.S. has won the tournament only once, in 2003, but has come home with eight silver medals, most recently in 2013.
Experience has shown that the team that comes together the quickest has the best chance for success in a short tournament. As much as the players are getting familiar with each other, so too
is their head coach
Coaching such a talented young group of players is a bit of an adjustment for Donatelli, who spent the past six seasons coaching in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, first with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL before taking the reins of the AHL team in Wilkes Barre-Scranton midway through this past season. Still, he’s been impressed by his young squad’s willingness to learn and improve every day.
“It’s probably a little different for some of these guys, the way we coach and the way we practice and our style of play,” Donatelli said.
“But these kids are a pleasure to coach. They want to learn and they want to get better. I think when you go out there and show them the little things that are going to make them better and they go out there and execute that in practice and they see for themselves that if I do X then Y is going to happen and it really pays off.”
How well it pays off will be seen when the U.S. takes on Finland in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Aug. 8. With no time to catch their breath, they return to the ice to face Switzerland on Aug. 9 and then face the Czech Republic on Aug. 10. The top two teams from each bracket will then face off in the semifinals on Aug. 12. The championship game is slated for Aug. 13.