From Alexis Lafrenière showcasing his prodigious talents to the dynamic duo
of Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz making every Sweden game must-watch,
there is plenty to remember from the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, presented by
RAM, in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.
Before the stage is set for the tournament’s return to Red Deer from July
31 to Aug. 6, let’s take a look back.
“The Hlinka Gretzky [Cup] was great,” recalls Arizona Coyotes head coach
André Tourigny, who led Canada as bench boss in 2018. “The things that I
remember are those key moments; the comebacks we made, the solid play each
game and the comradery throughout the tournament was great.”
Led by the likes of Lafrenière, Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens and Bowen Byram,
Canada was again among the gold medal favourites as it welcomed summer
under-18 hockey to Canadian ice for the first time since the 1996 Pacific
Cup was hosted in Nelson and Castlegar, B.C.
Debuting the new black Hockey Canada jersey, Canada topped Group A in the
preliminary round in Edmonton; Peyton Krebs scored twice in a 10-0 win over
Switzerland, Lafrenière and Josh Williams had a goal and a helper apiece in
a 4-2 victory over Slovakia and Byram netted a late-winner in a 4-3 triumph
over the Swedes.
“The Hlinka Gretzky [Cup] was [my first time] representing Canada, so it
was definitely special,” recalls Williams, who finished the tournament tied
in second in goals (five) with Lafrenière and Raymond. “As a kid, you dream
of playing for Team Canada, and to be able to play with the group of guys,
be included in the conversation with them and win the trophy, it still
ranks up there.”
Led by future Vancouver Canucks first-rounder Vasily Podkolzin, it was
Russia that owned Group B in Red Deer, earning victories over Finland
(7-2), the Czech Republic (3-0) and the United States (8-3) to win the
group. Podkolzin scored in every game, while 16-year-old netminder Yaroslav
Askarov – the 11th overall pick by the Nashville Predators in 2020 – gave
fans a taste of what was to come with a 35-save shutout of the Czechs.
The semifinals were set – Russia vs. Sweden and Canada vs. United States.
The Russians and Swedes faced off in a titanic defensive battle, with
Askarov and Hugo Alnefelt going save-for-save to get the game to the second
intermission goalless. Edmonton Oilers prospect Philip Broberg opened the
scoring for the Swedes five minutes into the third period, only for
Podkolzin to tie it for the Russians with 1:54 to go.
With overtime looming, Raymond knocked down a clearing attempt and went
cross-ice to Karl Henriksson, who rifled a shot past Askarov with 44
seconds left to send the Swedes to the gold medal game.
The all-North American semifinal that followed was an instant classic. The
teams went back and forth, with Canada erasing a trio of one-goal deficits
before Williams gave it a 4-3 lead early in the third period. Goals 95
seconds apart from Luke Toporowski and Nick Robertson put the Americans
ahead 5-4 in the dying minutes, but Cozens beat the buzzer to force
overtime, leading to Williams’ extra-time winner to put Canada in the
With gold on the line, the Swedes took an early two-goal lead thanks to the
two-headed monster of Raymond and Holtz, chasing Canadian starter Nolan
Maier from the goal in favour of Taylor Gauthier. The move sparked Canada –
goals from Sasha Mutala, Dach and Lafrenière put the Canadians ahead for
good before the 18-minute mark, and Mutala and Lafrenière each got a second
as Canada closed out a golden 6-2 win.
“[Camp and the tournament are] only two, three weeks, so we go from a
moment where we become a team, to learning about the players in such a
short span of time, bringing the players to play in the same way, the
leadership group of Lafrenière, Bo Byram, those guys were great and we were
lucky to have everybody onboard,” says Tourigny.
Lafrenière, the captain, finished with 11 points (5-6—11), the most since
by a Canadian since Nathan MacKinnon had that many in 2012.
That total left him even with Podkolzin (8-3—11) atop the tournament
scoring chart while Raymond (5-2—7) and Holtz (2-5—7) paced the Swedes, one
point back of Montreal Canadiens centre Ryan Suzuki (1-7—8).
When the 2019 NHL Draft rolled around 10 months later, Dach (3rd to
Chicago), Byram (4th to Colorado), Cozens (7th to Buffalo), Broberg (8th to
Edmonton) and Podkolzin (10th to Vancouver) all went inside the top 10, and
Lafrenière led the way as the No. 1 pick to the New York Rangers a year
Need one last bit of information on just how good the talent was? When
international returned to hockey for the 2021 IIHF World Junior
Championship, a whopping 80 players from the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup once
again donned the colours of their country, including 11 Canadians, 12
Swedes and 13 Czechs.
Williams added a second championship to his résumé at Rogers Place this
season, helping the Edmonton Oil Kings win the Western Hockey League (WHL)
title. Even four years later, his international success continues to pay
dividends.“Winning the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2018 definitely instilled that
winning mentality in me and has pushed me to get back to that level. Having
experienced both championships, becoming the WHL champions this season with
the Oil Kings on the same ice, the Hlinka Gretzky [Cup] was a special
tournament to gain that experience and to win in front of friends and
family at home.”
Looking back at the talent showcased throughout the tournament, Tourigny
agrees that the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is a unique experience for prospects to
develop and see the talent from outside of their junior leagues.
“It’s the players’ first real experience of the best hockey in the world,”
he says. “They’re playing minor hockey and when you get to the
international level, it really is best-on-best. During the summer, you
really don’t find that anywhere else. There were a lot of great players in
that tournament who will have very great careers in the NHL.”
The 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, presented by RAM, is just days away!
Packages and single-game tickets are on sale now