Four former Rochester Americans from three different countries will begin the quest for gold in hockey’s grandest spectacle at the 81st annual 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France this weekend. The premier international event kicks off on Friday, May 5 as Team Sweden squares off against Russia in Group A from the LAXXESS Arena, while the Group B matchup sees Team Finland, the silver medal winner at last year’s event, versus Belarus at the AccorHotels Arena. The three-week, 16-team tournament will conclude with the gold-medal game on Sunday, May 21.
Set to make second straight international appearance with his native Czech Republic, forward Michal Repik was a member of the Amerks for all of Rochester’s three-year affiliation with the Florida Panthers from 2008-11. Selected by Florida in the second round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Repik registered 147 points (52+95) in 188 career games for the Amerks. Repik ranked first on the team and tied for 12th in scoring among all AHL rookies with 49 points (19+30) in 2008-09, becoming the first Amerks rookie to pace the team in scoring since Peter Ciavaglia in 1991-92. He captured career-highs in goals (22) and points (53) during the 2009-10 campaign while helping Rochester clinch a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs and earned a selection to the 2011 AHL All-Star Game the following year. Repik also appeared in 55 NHL games with the Panthers during his three seasons in Rochester before eventually departing North America to continue his career overseas. Despite finishing atop Group A in the Preliminary Round in last year’s event, the Czech Republic finished in fifth at last year’s event after falling to the United States in the quarterfinals. The Czechs have failed to earn a medal in four straight years, marking the first time in the country’s history they have gone four straight years without a medal since 1993 in its first-ever appearance in the annual tournament. During the 2016 event, Repik had a team-high 16 penalty minutes in eight games to go along with his two goals and pair of assists.
Zemgus Girgensons, Janis Sprukts and the Latvian national team are set to make their 25th straight appearance at the annual event. Since rejoining the circuit in 1993, Latvia has yet to medal or place higher than seventh in any year of competition, marking the longest period of futility of any IIHF sanctioned nation participating in the sport of hockey. Latvia hasn’t placed higher than 11th in each of the last four competitions and is coming off a disappointing 13th-place finish in the last two tournaments. A first-round selection of the Sabres in 2012, Girgensons recently completed his fourth season in Buffalo with 16 points (7+9) in a career-high 75 games. Prior to earning a full-time spot with the Sabres, the Riga, Latvia, native spent his entire rookie campaign with the Amerks in 2012-13, scoring six goals and adding 11 assists for 17 points in 61 regular-season outings. Girgensons also led Rochester in scoring in the postseason, scoring a team-high three goals, including a pair in his professional playoff debut, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Marlies. He holds the distinction of being the only current NHLer on Latvia’s active roster.
Sprukts, meanwhile, who was absent from last year’s competition, returns to the national team after spending the 2016-17 campaign with Ritten Sport in the Alps Hockey League. The Latvian alternate captain was a member of the Amerks for two seasons (2006-07, 2008-09) while jumping back and forth between North America and Europe. Sprukts posted his best season of professional hockey in his first stint with Rochester as he captured career-highs in goals (18), assists (41) and points (59) to finish second on the team in scoring. He also finished the 2006-07 campaign second in postseason scoring with four points (1+3) and was the recipient of the team’s Unsung Hero and Most Valuable Player Awards. The 2017 competition marks Sprukts’ 10th trip to the World Championship, the most among any other Latvian player to participate in the event. Sprukts was originally an eighth-round (234th overall) selection of the Florida Panthers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Winners of the 2014 tournament and last year’s bronze medal winner, Russia enters the event as one of the top favorites to take home gold and features a powerhouse lineup with ties to four different NHL teams and seven other KHL teams. The Russians have dominated the international competition over the last decade, earning a total of nine medals over that span, including winning four goal medals since 2008. Russia has also medaled at four straight events between 2007 and 2010, including back-to-back first-place finishes in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and is in pursuit of its 10th medal in 13 years. Returning for the fourth straight year is former Amerks forward Evgenii Dadonov, whose previous three stints with Russia’s top national team have resulted in medal-earning performances (gold in 2014, silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016). Dadonov is no stranger to the international scene, having represented his country at both the 2009 and 2008 World Junior Championships as well as the 2007 U-18 World Junior Championships, medaling at all three events. During the 2016 event, Dadonov finished with 13 points, including a tie for the team lead in goals with six. In 100 career games in Rochester, the former Amerk collected 56 points on 25 goals and 31 assists. The Chelyabinsk, Russia native, posted his best season as an Amerk during the 2009-10 campaign, establishing career-highs in all offensive categories, including goals (17), assists (23) and points (40), to finish seventh on the team and 13th in scoring among AHL rookies. He also made his NHL debut that season when he appeared in four games for the Florida Panthers, whom he represented at the 2011 NHL SuperSkills as one of 12 rookies.
Despite no direct ties to Rochester, worth mentioning is the United States’ roster, which features a host of young talent with 19 of the 22 players representing the National Hockey League. Among them include Buffalo Sabres second-year superstar Jack Eichel and highly touted goaltending prospect Cal Petersen, the Sabres’ fifth-round pick (129th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, who recently completed his junior season at the University of Norte Dame.
Eichel, 20, Buffalo’s first-round selection (second overall) in 2015, makes his second appearance in three years for an American squad that hasn’t won gold at the annual event since 1960 and has medaled just four times – all bronze – in the last 20 years. Through two seasons into his professional career, Eichel has notched 48 goals with Buffalo, leading the team in each of the last two seasons, and has recorded 113 points (48+65) in 142 career games. A two-time medal winner (gold in 2014, silver in 2013) with Team USA at the World Junior Championships, Eichel also represented the United States during the 2016 World Hockey Challenge, helping the Americans to a fifth-place finish.
Meanwhile, Petersen will be the youngest goaltender on the United States roster as the 22-year-old netminder will be behind 10-year NHL veteran Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. Petersen, a junior captain at Norte Dame, has started 90-consecutive games in goal for the Fighting Irish, the fourth-longest streak in NCAA history. He currently ranks first in career save percentage (.924) at Notre Dame, second in minutes played (6,498) and third in saves (3,042) and goals-against average (2.30). He’s also tied for third in victories (55) and fourth in shutouts (11) and games played (110).