BRECLAV, Czech Republic – It looks like the “veterans” will lead Canada’s under-18 hockey team into the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Brayden Schenn scored two goals to help Canada to a 4-2 exhibition victory over the Czech Republic on Sunday. That came one day after Taylor Hall had a hat trick and Schenn scored once in a pre-tournament win over the U.S.
They are two of the four players that won a gold medal with Canada at the world under-18 championship in the spring. Along with captain Matt Duchene and defenceman Matt Ellis, Schenn and Hall will be called on to lead this team when it opens tournament play against Switzerland on Tuesday.
“All four guys that are returning from April have been excellent,” said Canadian coach Bill Peters. “They’re not just good hockey players, they’re good kids too.
“They all lead in their own way.”
Louis Leblanc and Ryan O’Reilly also scored for Canada on Sunday while Ellis added two assists. Jakub Smid and Daniel Skalicky replied for the Czechs.
The Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament is an eight-team tournament that features the best hockey players under 18 in the world.
The Canadian players and personnel arrived in Europe on Thursday before playing the two exhibition games over the weekend. They’ll go through a short practice on Monday to prepare for the event, where the winner of each pool after three round robin games advances to the gold medal final.
Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen is one of the Canadian players experiencing this level of competition for the first time. He picked up the win over the Czechs on Sunday and was thrilled to wear the maple leaf.
“It’s an incredible honour,” said Lieuwen. “I was quite excited to be invited to the camp and to make the team. Just to be here and play for your country, it’s an amazing experience.”
The 17-year-old is visiting Europe for the first time but has had some experience on the larger ice because there’s an Olympic-sized rink in his hometown of Abbotsford, B.C.
That’s only one part of what the players have to adjust to. Peters has also been pushing the importance of discipline to his players, many of whom are unaccustomed to the Europe standard of refereeing.
“In North America you really go to the net hard and (coaches) preach that from a young age,” said Peters. “Crashing the net, going to the net, staying in on rebounds. …
“Here, any type of contact with a goaltender – as slight as it may be – results in a penalty. It’s just a little bit different mindset.”
Fortunately, the coach has a few veterans around to help reinforce the message.