The way Derek Plante’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup players towered over Zam Plante, they might as well have been established pros.
A 10U and 12U circa 2013 to 2015, Derek’s firstborn of three hockey-playing sons could easily be led to believe these were upper-class high-school kids representing Team USA.
Now, as he ventures out to the world-class under-18 tournament himself this coming week, he chuckles with astonishment at how time blew by.
“I thought all the guys were much older when he coached it,” Zam said of Derek’s Hlinka Gretzky coaching stint, which yielded a second-place finish as an assistant in 2013 and third place as the head in 2014.
The younger Plante and Casy Laylin give the U.S. two sons of one-time Hlinka Gretzky bench bosses bound for Břeclav, Czech Republic and Piešťany, Slovakia. Add Cole Knuble — whose father, Mike, played 16 NHL seasons, in four IIHF World Championships and the 2006 Olympic Winter Games — and it’s a second-generation American hat trick.
For all three, this is a long-awaited chance to break transatlantic ice, something their dads routinely did as players. As a journeyman defenseman, Cory Laylin was variously employed in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany and Denmark from 1992 to 2008.
Through Cory’s stints in the latter two countries over the mid-2000s, Casy had European exposure in his earliest years of consciousness. The residual appreciation leaves him itching to “play on a big sheet, play an international game with all the space and creativity.”
After eight NHL seasons, the elder Plante closed his playing career in Germany, Austria and Japan. In between, he visited six European countries for as many world championships.
For Cole, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup also means building on a foundation of development he established this past season. He joined USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-17 squad on a three-game call-up, played in one Under-18 contest and savored five engagements on the USHL docket.
All of that came long after he attended the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games at the age of 18 months, and after untold hours in his family’s half weight room/half memorabilia gallery of a basement. There on display is Mike’s 2006 Team USA jersey and additional equipment from his five IIHF odysseys.
While the Olympic Winter Games were the only one of those in Cole’s lifetime, the 2001 World Championship is a glistening object of reminiscence this week. The elder Knuble and Plante played together that spring, helping the Americans to the semifinals.
“It’s gotta be cool for them to see us playing together,” Cole said of himself, Zam and their respective parents. “I’m sure they’re talking.”
Cory never experienced international action beyond his junior career, but he has directed some. He served as an assistant coach at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, then ascended to the head position in 2019.
“It’s been pretty cool with him coaching this tournament for a while,” Casy said. “I’ve always been paying attention to it.”
Then he knows he represents his country’s hunt for its first Hlinka Gretzky Cup championship since snagging second place in 2016. The U.S. seeks its first first place finish since 2003, the year before any of this new blood was born.
For his part, Cole brings a fresh winning pedigree. Besides his NTDP breakout, 2021 has seen him pilot Fox Motors AAA to the Tier I Elite Hockey League championship in mid-February.
The upcoming serving of six games in eight days on an all-round bigger platform equals a timely upgrade in testing.
“More games,” Cole said eagerly. “There’ll be a lot of people watching. We’re playing against some of the best players in the world, best hockey countries in the world.”
Fittingly, it starts with the co-hosts. Team USA defeated the Czech Republic, 5-3, in a pre-tournament matchup on Saturday with Plante scoring a goal, then opens its round-robin slate with Slovakia on Monday (1 p.m. EDT).
As the elder Laylin and Plante could confirm, those opposing nations were once a unit. Cory faced a dynamic Czechoslovakia team led by Jaromir Jagr at the 1990 World Junior Championships. The next year, Derek and the under-20 Americans finished one point behind a third place team powered by Czech Martin Rucinsky and Slovak Ziggy Palffy. He then visited Prague and Bratislava for the 1992 World Championship.
Team USA’s newest Laylin and Plante cannot help but take the late-summer U18 tournament their dads once coached in as a potential springboard to the post-Christmas junior jamboree their fathers played in.
“Obviously it would be a real honor to play for the World Junior team,” Casy said before quickly shifting his focus back to the tournament at hand.
“That’d be a dream come true someday,” agreed Zam, “hopefully follow in his footsteps, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.