A tournament bearing the name of Canada’s biggest hockey icon will makes its bow in the province this month.
For the first time, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup comes to the province where The Great One plied his trade for a decade as Edmonton and Red Deer host the tourney beginning Monday.
The tournament, which has been held annually since 1991, brings together the world’s best under-18 teams from around the world. In 2007, the event took on the name of the Ivan Hlinka Cup to honour the legendary Czech player and coach who died in a car accident in 2004. Wayne Gretzky’s name was added to the tournament’s title in January to honour the man many consider to be the best ever to play the game.
“Bringing such a prestigious tournament to Canada is made all the more special as it is in the memory of Ivan Hlinka,” Gretzky said at the time. “Ivan and his family have done a tremendous job of putting time, money and effort into making our sport better, not only just in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but worldwide.
“We’re going to have people come from all over the world to be part of this prestigious tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer. I’m honoured to share the name with a true trailblazer in hockey while continuing Ivan’s legacy of growing the sport.”
In the 27 years since the tournament’s inception, Canada has been its dominant force, claiming 21 editions of the competition, including winning all but three of the past 22. Canada has failed to medal at the tournament on only three occasions. Among those who have dressed for Canada over the years were a number of future National Hockey League stars, including Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jarome Iginla, Patrick Marleau, Aaron Ekblad, Mitch Marner and Mathew Barzal.
But Canadian stars aren’t the only ones to make their mark at the tournament. International players have also excelled at the tournament before making their leaps to the NHL. The likes of Patrik Laine, Brock Boeser, David Pastrnak and Kevin Fiala are just some of the young talent to use the tournament as a springboard en route to the draft and ultimately the NHL.
Among the players to keep an eye on in Alberta on Gilles Bouchard’s squad is Saint-Eustache, Que.’s Alexis Lafreniere.
Already being touted as the top selection in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the left-winger hopes to follow in the footsteps of Crosby (2005) and Vincent Lecavalier (1998) as the No. 1 overall selection out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski Oceanic.
Lafreniere is one of three players – along with defencemen Bowen Byram and Matthew Robertson – to compete last spring’s IIHF U-18 World Championships in Russia. At 16, Lafreniere ate the Q alive in his rookie campaign, scoring 42 and adding 38 assists to finish ninth in scoring and claim the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the league’s top rookie. The last 16-year-old to score 40 in the QMJHL? That Crosby kid.
Canada finds itself in a group alongside Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. Group B is comprised of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and the United States.
Canada’s tournament gets underway on Monday night from Edmonton when they take on Switzerland.
You can catch Canada vs. Switzerland in the opener of the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup LIVE across the TSN Network and streaming on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct at 9pm et/6pm pt.