Detroit – If you’re a coach or player in the NHL, at this time of year, you want to be competing in the playoffs.
But only 16 of 31 teams get that opportunity. The remainder of players and coaches either begin training for next season – or get the chance to represent their country in the world championships.
For coach Jeff Blashill and forwards Dylan Larkin and Luke Glendening, they will represent Team USA. Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi are playing for Canada; Filip Hronek for the Czech Republic.
The tournament, which this year takes place in Slovakia, begins May 10, with the finals on May 26.
“There isn’t a guy on this team who’d wouldn’t rather be in the NHL playoffs,” Blashill said. “That’s a given. (But) I’m a big a believer if you get the chance to continue to work later into May, you don’t get used to being done early, and you’re preparing yourself for the days when you’re going to have opportunities in long playoff runs. It’s the message I’ve given our players – prepare yourself that way.”
The world championships, usually held in Europe, are tough to beat for national pride and excitement.
It’s not uncommon for fans of the participating teams to roam the streets while carrying flags, chanting during games, and generally creating a festive atmosphere.
“I love the energy of this tournament,” said Blashill, who is coaching Team USA for a third consecutive year. “It’s an amazing tournament. Any hockey fans who haven’t had the chance to attend, you should go over there some day, to the world championships.
“The passion behind the teams, the pride, it’s just awesome.
“So, you stay in a competitive environment, the games are ultra-competitive. You look at the rosters, and it’s all world-class players, so you get a chance to coach and compete against some of the best players in the world.”
Blashill and his staff, including Wings assistant Dan Bylsma, led Team USA to a bronze medal in 2018, and have a team capable of winning gold this month.
Along with Larkin and Glendening, the USA roster has Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, and the national development team’s Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks) and Jack Hughes (expected to be the NHL’s first overall draft pick) on the roster.
“As the depth of USA hockey continues to grow, that allows you on a consistent basis to field a team that has an opportunity to win,” Blashill said. “If you have a good depth of player pool, then you’re going to have a lot of guys, a lot of real good players, say yes.”
Team USA is motivated by its strong showing the last two years. The Americans won six consecutive games before losing to Finland in the quarterfinals in 2017, then won the bronze medal last year.
“We’ve shown we’re good enough to win, and I really believe our players, when they’re asked (to play), understand if they go, they have a real chance to win gold,” Blashill said. “Anytime you have that chance, guys are going to be more apt to say yes.”
Blashill understands his team is considered one of the favorites, but there’s a lot of work to do before winning any sort of medal.
“It’s a good feeling, we have a good roster, a real good roster, but you don’t win by having a good roster,” Blashill said. “You win by going out and executing and that’s the message.
“We have to get on the same page faster than the other countries, we have to be willing to sacrifice more than the other countries and we have to be ready to out-compete the other countries.”
When: May 10-26
Where: Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia
TV: The NHL Network will televise all of Team USA’s games, beginning May 10 at 2:15 p.m. against Slovakia.
USA Red Wings: Coach Jeff Blashill, assistant coaches Dan Bylsma and Adam Nightingale, trainer Piet Van Zant, forwards Dylan Larkin and Luke Glendening.
Other Red Wings: For Canada, equipment manager Paul Boyer, forwards Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. For Czech Republic, defenseman Filip Hronek.
Local players: Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills/Chicago Blackhawks), Alec Martinez (Rochester Hills/L.A. Kings), Christian Wolanin (Rochester/Ottawa Senators), Quinn Hughes and Jack Hughes (USNTDP).