Tons of international hockey coming up this month, starting with the under-18 showcase in Canada
While the hockey world may be fired up for the rare summer edition of the Under-20 World Junior Championships coming up in August, there is also a pretty sizable international preseason tournament for bright, young stars that can’t be overlooked.
The 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup takes place July 31 through Aug. 6 in Red Deer, Alberta, as some of the world’s best Under-18 players converge on Canada.
It has had its share of different titles, debuting as the Phoenix Cup in 1991 in Yokohama and Sapporo, Japan. After three years there, it moved to Mexico City for one year, back to Japan in 1995 and then to Nelson and Castlegar, B.C., in 1996. In 1997, the tournament — by then called the Junior World Cup — moved to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where it first alternated between countries from 1997-2001 and then became a joint affair from 2002-17.
The tournament was renamed in honor of Ivan Hlinka, the Czech hockey legend who passed away after a car accident in 2004. When it moved back to Canada in 2018 (Edmonton and Alberta), it was renamed once again, this time the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to include none other than Wayne Gretzky.
In short, it’s the kick-off event for the players’ NHL Draft season, and it’s always worth a watch when you consider some of the players that have skated in the tournament.
It’s a who’s-who of Canadian hockey royalty on the alumni list – Paul Kariya played in the inaugural event, while Jerome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad and Alexis Lafreniere have represented their country at the event.
The international list is star-studded, as well, as the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Gabriel Landeskog, Tomas Plekanec, Teuvo Teravainen, Kirill Kaprizov and Mikko Rantanen are just some off the top.
The Americans, however, handle the tournament a little differently. The Hlinka Gretzky Cup for USA Hockey is the opportunity to get international experience and exposure for the players not playing for the National Team Development Program. Talented players are on every roster – Johnny Gaudreau, Mikey Anderson, Casey Mittelstadt, Kailer Yamamoto, Alex Nedeljkovic and Kyle Connor are some of the more recent – but it’s not exactly the ‘best-on-best’ you will see at the World Juniors.
Ironically, the other countries are being forced to adopt a little bit of the Americans’ strategy this go-round, since players who are going to be competing in the World Juniors later in the month won’t be expected to play in two tournaments. The biggest name to not be skating in the tournament is Connor Bedard, the projected No. 1 overall pick in next summer’s NHL Draft. He was on Team Canada’s roster for the canceled World Junior tournament last winter, and he’s not on the Hlinka Gretzky roster, so we’re expecting to see him in action in the U20 event later in the month. Adam Fantilli is not on Canada’s Hlinka Gretzky roster, either, but he is a late ’04 birth-year.
Slovakia’s Maxim Strabak and Dalibor Dvorsky are 2023 NHL Draft eligible players who were on their country’s World Junior rosters in the first go-round, as well; Dvorsky especially is appearing high on way-to-early mock drafts.
And while COVID-19 may not be impacting the tournament like it has the last few seasons (Canada didn’t play last year out of safety concerns), the continuing war in Ukraine has led to tournament organizers deciding to not invite Russia to the Hlinka Gretzky.
Star-power abounds, nonetheless, as we are excited to see Brayden Yager of Moose Jaw (WHL), Calum Richie of Oshawa (OHL) and Zach Benson of Winnipeg (WHL) lead a high-powered Team Canada offense. Theo Lindstein is one to watch out of Sweden, as is Eduard Sale of Czechia and Kasper Halttunen of Finland.