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Hlinka Gretzky Cup 3 Stars: Hrabal, Cedzo and Benson Stand out

The last day of round-robin action at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup wound up being the closest day so far. Tony Ferrari looks at three standouts from Wednesday night in Red Deer.
2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup_2

The last day of the round robin wound up being the closest day of action thus far. Canada’s 3-0 victory over Sweden was the biggest win on the day, with Czechia beating the Americans 3-1 and the Slovaks winning 3-2 in overtime against Switzerland.

There were plenty of standouts throughout the day, but these three stood above the rest:

First Star: G Michael Hrabel, Czechia

The 17-year-old Czech stood tall against the Americans, stopping 34 of 35 shots and helping propel the Czech squad to the top seed of Group B. His positional play and mobility in net was outstanding. Hrabal showed excellent post-integration and the ability to burst laterally. The Czech team was outshot 35 to 20 in this game, with several good chances coming from high-danger areas. Czechia committed five penalties and Hrabal stood tall on every one of them. The only goal he allowed came on a puck shoveled in from the doorstep with no Czech defenseman in sight.

Hrabal is one of the most intriguing goalies available for the 2023 NHL draft and his performance thus far will continue to push his name to the forefront of the goaltending conversation. At 6-foot-4, Hrabal has the size NHL teams covet and he does an excellent job of staying square to the shooter and tracking puck movement in the offensive zone. He will be a name to watch as the year rolls on and he could be a factor as we move to the elimination games.

Second Star: LW Adam Cedzo, Slovakia

The Slovak winger deserves all of the roses he is getting after scoring the game-tying goal and the overtime winner. Adam Cedzo wasn’t necessarily the best player for the Slovaks from start to finish. That would arguably be netminder Samuel Urban, but Cedzo came up huge when it mattered. Cedzo's first goal on the power play came from just in front of the net, and while he isn't a big forward by any means, he's a tough, shifty player to move out of the way.

Cedzo was again at the right place at the right time in overtime. Dangling through defenders, Frantisek Dej was able to drive the net wide and draw attention away from the crease, just around where Cedzo parked himself. As soon as both defenders committed to Dej attacking from below the faceoff circles, he sent a pass to Cedzo who made no mistake burying it to capture the win.

Cedzo is an agile forward with good hands and quick passing ability. He times his routes well and understands that despite being a bit undersized, the highest danger areas offensively are around the front of the net. He could be a sneaky name to watch as the 2023 NHL draft season wears on.

Third Star: LW Zach Benson, Canada

Zach Benson scored the insurance goal in a 3-0 game and despite teammates such as Brayden Yager and Calum Ritchie having multi-point nights, it was Benson who was out there controlling the play against the Swedes. The Winnipeg ICE forward has been one of Canada’s most consistent players at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and this game was no different. His willingness to use his speed on the forecheck, taking near-perfect routes to loose pucks, and getting involved in the action all over the ice was evident. His lateral agility to weave through space is efficient while his mind seems to be a step ahead of the competition.

Benson's goal came on the rush, being the wide man on a three-on-two. It’s impressive to watch Benson use changes in speed and small changes in direction to create space for himself before collapsing into the slot as he gets closer to the net. The 5-foot-10 forward swooped in and corralled a loose puck in the slot before flipping a nifty backhander by the Swedish netminder. His ability to read and adapt to the play is among the best on the Canadian roster. His name will be discussed often throughout the 2023 draft season and the statement he has made so far at the Hlinka has been noticeable.

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