Under The Radar

The U.S. Under-18 Select Team Looks To Capture The Best Tournament You May Have Never Heard Of

It might be the best-kept secret in the general USA Hockey community.

Yet, with the advent of social media, live video streams and the tournament becoming easier to follow online, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup has gained an increased amount of buzz the past couple of years.

This year’s Cup spans Aug. 11-16, with the U.S. team slated to face the Czech Republic, Russia and Finland in its round robin games.

“It’s the first stage before the NHL Draft and kids are getting noticed,” said Patrick Boller, assistant coach and video coordinator with this year’s U.S. U-18 team. “…Every team is there. It’s very well attended event by National Hockey League teams. That’s a big part of it.”

Added Kevin McLaughlin, general manager and senior director, hockey development: “It’s become a more professionally-run tournament. …It’s the only time that NHL teams will see these other countries best players play together and against each other.”

For Alex Nedeljkovic, the junior hockey netminder carried his stellar play from the 2013 Hlinka Memorial Cup into a second round selection by the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

The Pama, Ohio native was the second American-born goaltender selected.

“It was a great tournament, and my first time playing overseas,” Nedeljkovic said. “To be able to see some of the guys who play over in Europe and Russia, the style of game they play, how much more patient they are with the puck and how much more possessive they are with the puck compared to a lot of North Americans and how we play.”

On the flip side, McLaughlin first started heading overseas with the U.S. in the early 2000s, back when the tournament used to be called the U-18 Junior World Cup. With no taxies, inconsistent cell phone use, no Wi-Fi and the communication barrier, it made for an interesting and unique experience. Now, in the past five years, there has been a complete change in the culture, according to McLaughlin.

“Back then, it was very Communist gray,” said McLaughlin of eastern Europe. “Lights went out at a certain time at night; everything shut down. Now, businesses are popping up, and there’s lots of color and activity.”

The U.S. will hope to add its second gold medal at Hlinka, which has been typically dominated by the Canadians.

Head coach Derek Plante, who served as an assistant coach on last year’s runner-up team and is a current assistant coach at Minnesota-Duluth, said that his previous experience overseas should help with continuing the U.S. team’s recent success.

“I think it was helpful going through the process last year to see what worked and what didn’t work,” Plante said. “We tried to get a little more experience this year, guys that have played the game at a high level. Stronger, bigger kids. …We really want to go over there and challenge to win the gold medal.”

Check out this recent podcast with U.S. U-18 Select Team Head Coach, Derek Plante. Plante and USA Hockey Magazine Editor, Harry Thompson, discuss the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup and playing overseas.

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