The Canadians captured gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with a decisive 4-1 win over the Swedes in the gold medal game while the Finns took down Czechia in the bronze medal game by a 3-1 score. The Canadian team was dominant from start to finish, in all facets of the game.
There were many players who impressed throughout this tournament. The Canadians command a great deal of attention but they certainly weren’t the only standouts at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Aron Kiviharju, D (FIN)
1G-5A-6P in 5GP
Almost without question, the best defenseman at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup was 2024 NHL draft-eligible blueliner Aron Kiviharju. The young Finn played with incredible poise and understanding of how to precisely attack opponents. Kiviharju manipulates his opponents, using changes in speed, shoulder and head fakes, and agile cuts in transition. The 16-year-old rearguard is an effective defender, closing space at the defensive blueline and forcing his opponents to make a quick decision of whether to dump the puck in or attempt to beat a defender who is just more talented than most players at the U-18 level.
Kiviharju’s offensive game is methodical and calculated. He has some very impressive puck skill and a great shot while also being an excellent playmaker from the top of the offensive zone. Kiviharju will use his mobility to penetrate offensively as well. All of these things were on display at the Hlinka.
Scott Ratzlaff, G (CAN)
4-0-0 | .962 SV% | 0.50 GAA | 83 saves on 85 shots
The Canadian's ability to run through the competition at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup wouldn’t have been possible without the Irma, Alberta native in net. Scott Ratzlaff was a nearly unbeatable netminder for Canada, allowing just two goals throughout. Ratzlaff was a wall in net, using his athleticism and puck tracking to stay square to the shooter. The Canadian goaltender was arguably the best of the tournament, but his workload was fairly light in comparison to others because of how dominant the Canadians were in front of him.
Eduard Šalé, F (CZE)
4G-2A-6P in 5GP
The emerging star of the tournament in many respects, Šalé was the clear-cut star for Czechia as they earned a spot in the bronze medal game. Although the Czechs fell short of a medal, they looked like one of the best teams at this tournament at times, in large part due to Šalé’s ability to drive play and chain positive events together. The young Czech winger plays such a pro-ready game, understanding where the play needs to go next and executing it efficiently. He scored twice in the shootout against Finland to open the tournament and had a hat trick against Germany, among other great performances.
Otto Stenberg, F (SWE)
5G-4A-9P in 5GP
Arguably the best forward in the tournament, Otto Stenberg was a force for the Swedes. His ability to create offense was evident in just about every game. Canada was the only team to hold him scoreless, but he had multi-point games against every other opponent. Stenberg has a laser for a shot with the mindset to change the angle of the stick blade for a bit of deception thrown into his release. The creativity as a playmaker is impressive as well. Stenberg showed at the Hlinka Gretzky that he can drive play and create chances for both himself and his teammates thanks to his skill and pace.
Calum Ritchie, F (CAN)
4G-6A-10P in 5GP
The tournament leader in scoring, Calum Ritchie was Canada’s most consistent forward. His ability to read and react to what's happening at any given moment is where his game blossoms from. The Canadian forward blends that intellect with high-end skill that he flashes from time to time when the moment calls for it, such as the near between-the-legs goal he scored against Sweden on the rush. Ritchie has a wicked shot with a quick release but isn’t your typical goal scorer that tends to be a bit selfish. He'll often defer to teammates in better scoring positions. Ritchie found the scoresheet in every game, with three multi-point games and goals in both the semis and the final.
Eemil Vinni, G (FIN)
3-1-0 | .927 SV% | 1.75 GAA | 89 saves on 96 shots
Despite not having the numbers that Canada’s Scott Ratzlaff had, Eemil Vinni may very well have been the best goalie at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Vinni didn’t have nearly the equivalent talent level in front of him and was able to stand on his head at times. The 6-foot-2 netminder moves so smoothly in his crease. Moving on and off of his posts extremely well, Vinni is technically sound in his positioning. The Finnish goaltender finds the puck through traffic extremely well, peeking around legs and body and staying square to the shooter. Vinni allowed one goal in each game except the semifinal against Canada, where the powerhouse canucks put four on the board. Vinni is one of, if not the top goaltender eligible for the 2024 NHL draft.
Brayden Yager, F (CAN)
5G-4A-9P in 5GP
Brayden Yager is one of the premier talents for the 2023 NHL draft and his Hlinka performance showed exactly why. Yager was an offensive machine, putting up points in big moments for Canada en route to gold. Yager has a wicked shot, releasing it from a variety of shooting positions whether the puck is in his feet or extended from his body. Lining up at center on the Canadian’s top line, Yager was tasked with big minutes and big moments, both of which he was more than up to the task. Yager finds open space in the offensive zone and exploits it every chance he gets. The Moose Jaw Warriors forward showed a few flashes of good defensive discipline and had a few takeaways but was often the player up ice, looking to get a pass from the defense in order to generate quick strike offense up ice.
William Whitelaw, F (USA)
2G-2A-4P in 4GP
While he didn’t come into the tournament as the player to watch for the Americans, Whitelaw is may have put his name at the forefront of people’s minds. His game is electric at times, built on pace and a non-stop motor. Whitelaw is a pest when the opponent is trying to break out of their own end, getting his stick on the puck of the defenders in their own zone. Whitelaw has the raw tools to deke and dangle around a number of opposing players with nifty mitts and shifty feet. Despite a disappointing result for the Americans, Whitelaw was a constant threat to score. His ability to control the puck, generate and offensive chance and be hot in pursuit of the puck as soon as the puck is loose or on the defender's stick makes him a nuisance for the opposition.
Theo Lindstein, D (SWE)
1G-5A-6P in 5GP
Lindstein was one of the best two-way blueliners at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. His mobility was effective in all three zones, paired with perfect timing and a good stick. He is a masterful breakout passer who hits his teammates in stride with pinpoint passes up ice. The young Swede had a standout performance with five points against Switzerland, including a few noticeable plays utilizing his speed up the ice. Lindstein’s defensive game was decisive and effective, cutting off skating and passing routes with his quick feet and active stick.
Cam Allen, D (CAN)
1G-6A-7P in 5GP
The tournament's top-scoring blueliner brought it all every single night. He is an offensive machine, using his instincts to jump into the rush when the opportunity presents itself. Allen is manipulative with the puck on his stick, looking opponents off with his eyes akin to an NFL quarterback looking off a free safety. Allen is a skilled passer who can thread the needle through traffic, waiting for defenders to clear passing lanes and then immediately passing the puck through the space they vacated. He had an up-and-down tournament in his own end, slipping out of coverage at times but his game is predicated on getting offensive chances generated for his team and getting involved at the offensive end while doing a serviceable job in his own end to keep the puck on his team’s sticks.