Nine former Rochester Americans from six different countries will begin the quest for gold in hockey’s grandest spectacle at the 83rd annual 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in Bratislava and Košice, Slovakia this weekend. The premier international event kicks off on Friday, May 10 as Team Canada, who fell 4-1 in the bronze medal game last spring, squares off against Finland in Group A from the Steel Arena. Group B’s opening-matchup features Team Russia, which was upset in the quarterfinals last year, and Norway at the Ondrej Nepela Arena. The three-week, 16-team tournament will conclude with the gold-medal game on Sunday, May 26.
Entering the tournament as one of the top favorites to take home gold for the third time in five years, Team Canada features a powerhouse lineup with ties to 15 different NHL teams. Team Canada went undefeated at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Prague and Ostrava, Czech Republic, on its way to its first gold medal in eight years. Since 1931, Canada has won the world championship 22 times – not counting the years when Olympic Winter Games gold-medalists were also considered world champions. The country has also collected 11 silver medals and six bronze in that span. With its most recent first-place finish at the 2016 event, Canada claimed gold in consecutive years for the ninth time since joining the annual competition back in 1912.
Joining Canada in its bid for its 25th gold medal is forward Sam Reinhart, who is coming off his most productive campaign for the Buffalo Sabres. Reinhart established career-highs in both assists (43) and points (65) while appearing in all 82 games with the Sabres for the second straight season.
Reinhart’s stint in Rochester was short yet effective, as the he joined the Amerks for their final three games of the 2014-15 season, recording three assists. Reinhart is certainly no stranger to international competition either, having previously represented Canada on numerous occasions, including most recently helping the Canadians to gold medal at the World Championship in 2016 and the World Junior Championship in 2015.
Also accompanying Reinhart is current Sabres general manager and former Amerk Jason Botterill as well as former longtime Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. Botterill will serve as one of the Team Canada’s three general managers while Ruff will be an associate coach. In three seasons with the Amerks from 2002 to 2005, Botterill recorded 100 points (59+41) in 118 games, while Ruff tallied 34 points (10+24) in 62 contests during the 1991-92 season with Rochester.
Set to make his fourth 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 third in Group B in the Preliminary Round in last year’s event, the Czech Republic failed to make it into the semifinals in last year’s event after falling to the United States in the quarterfinals for the third consecutive year. The Czechs have failed to earn a medal in six straight years, marking the first time in the country’s history they have gone six straight years without a medal since 1993 in its first-ever appearance in the annual tournament.
During the 2018 event, Repik shared the team lead with four goals in eight games.
Winners of the 2014 tournament and having earned medals in four of the last five years, Russia enters the event as one of the top favorites to take home gold, and much like Canada, features a powerhouse lineup with ties to nine different NHL teams and three other KHL teams. The Russians have dominated the international competition over the last 17 years, earning a total of 11 medals over that span, including winning five goal medals since 2008 and gold at 2018 Winter Olympic Games in February in PyeongChang, South Korea. Russia also medaled at four straight events between 2007 and 2010, including back-to-back first-place finishes. Russia, which has made the quarterfinals every year since 2004, is in pursuit of its 11th medal in 15 years at the annual event.
Returning for the sixth straight year is former Amerks forward Evgenii Dadonov, whose previous five stints with Russia’s top national team have resulted in four medal-earning performances (gold in 2014, silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016 and 2017). 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 2018 event, Dadonov finished with seven points (2+5) in eight contests.
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.
Also joining Dadonov is former Amerk Mikhail Grigorenko, who returns to the international stage for the third time in the last three international events. Grigorenko claimed his first gold medal while representing the Olympic Athletes of Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics and was a member of the 2018 Russia’s sixth-place finish last spring at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark. The medal marked his seventh overall over 10 appearances at the international level, which also includes the 2011 World Junior Under-18 Championship and three consecutive years (2012-2014) competing at the World Junior Championship.
After making his Rochester debut in the spring of 2013, the former first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres played parts of three seasons with the Amerks amassing 40 points (14+26) in 52 career games in the red, white and blue. The Khabarovsk, Russia, native notched his best season as an Amerk during the 2014-15 slate, establishing career-highs in all offensive categories, including goals (14), assists (22) and points (36), to finish fourth on the team in scoring.
During the 2018 event, Grigorenko finished third on the team with four goals and a pair of assists in eight games.
After sitting out the 2016’s annual event, veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera returns to the international stage for the eighth time in his 13-year professional career. The host Slovakians have been regular participants in the tournament since 1996 but have only qualified for the medal round just once in the last 15 years. On the heels of its fourth ninth-place finish in the last five seasons, the Slovaks are looking for their first gold medal since 2002 and their first medal since winning silver in 2012.
Sekera, a resident of Bojnice, Slovakia, was taken by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the same class that featured Russian phenomes Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who were claimed first and second overall by the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. The 32-year-old defenseman, who served as team captain last spring for the second time during his World Cup Championship career, posted three points (1+2) in seven games.
Sekera, who made his professional debut with the Amerks during the 2006-07 season, finished his AHL career scoring 36 points (5+31) in 94 appearances. After the 2007-08 season, Sekera became a permanent fixture in the NHL and to date has recorded 236 points (45+191) and 178 penalty minutes in 707 career games for Buffalo, Carolina, Los Angeles and Edmonton.
Winners of each of the last two tournaments after missing out on a medal the prior two years, the two-time defending champions from Sweden are in pursuit of their third straight first-place finish at the annual event. The Swedes have never won three straight gold medals since entering the tournament back in 1931, and a top-three finish at this year’s event would give Sweden a total of seven medals in the last 11 years dating back to its bronze medal in 2009.
Former Amerks goaltender Jacob Markström returns to international stage for the first time since 2016. The former netminder posted a 16-20-1 record in 37 career games with Rochester in the 2010-11 campaign. A native of Gavle, Sweden, and a second-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2008, the highly touted Markström recently completed his 10th season in the NHL. In 229 career games between the Panthers and Vancouver Canucks, Markström has a combined 87-102-28 record and three shutouts.
This year’s event marks the fifth international appearance for Markström, who previously backstopped Sweden to a gold medal in 2013 and a bronze in 2010 after going 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. He also has two medals at the World Junior Championship level, winning bronze in 2010 and silver in 2009.
Despite no direct player ties to Rochester, worth mentioning is the United States, which features former Amerk Dan Bylsma as assistant coach. Team USA earned a bronze medal at last year’s event, marking their fifth top-five finish over the last six years.
Bylsma, who most recently served as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres from 2015-17, returns behind the bench on the international stage for the fourth time in his career.
In two games with Rochester during the 1992-93 season, the Grand Haven, Mich. native posted one assist. In 95 career games in the AHL between the Amerks, Albany River Rats, Moncton Hawks, Springfield Falcons, Lowell Lock Monsters and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Bylsma tallied 40 points (16+24).
Prior to turning to the coaching ranks where he won a Stanley Cup as bench boss for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, the Bowling Green State University product collected 62 points (19+23) in 429 games in the National Hockey League over a career that spanned nine seasons.
The United States will look to earn its second medal in consecutive years after winning the bronze in 2018. The Americans, however, haven’t won gold at the annual event since 1960 and has medaled just five times – all bronze – in the last 22 years.