MAY 15 UPDATE: Since this story was posted, two more NCHC alumni have been added to national team rosters for the 2019 IIHF Men's World Championship, giving the conference six alumni representing five countries at the tournament. Former North Dakota forward and current member of the Colorado Avalanche Tyson Jost has joined Team Canada, while former St. Cloud State forward and current member of the Edmonton Oilers/Bakersfield Condors Patrick Russell has been added to Denmark's national team. Both were members of the NCHC All-Rookie Team their freshman year.
KOSICE, Slovakia – The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) will be well represented at the upcoming 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Men’s World Championship, with four former NCHC players competing for four different countries. In addition to the two North Dakota alumni and two former Western Michigan skaters taking part in the two-week tournament, a current NCHC referee will also be officiating the games.
Former North Dakota defensemen Christian Wolanin and Troy Stecher will represent the United States and Canada, respectively, at the World Championship. Former WMU forward Frederik Tiffels will play for his native Germany, while former WMU defenseman Oliwer Kaski will suit up for his home country of Finland. Along with that quartet, NCHC referee Stephen Reneau will be working the World Championship in Slovakia. Also on Team USA is former Miami defenseman Alec Martinez, who played for the RedHawks prior to the NCHC’s existence.
The 2019 IIHF Men’s World Championship runs from May 10-26 in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia. All four former NCHC skaters will face off against each other as Canada, the U.S., Finland and Germany are all in Group A, with all of their preliminary round games taking place in Kosice from May 10-21. The medal-round games will then take place in Bratislava, which is hosting Group B preliminary round games. Joining Team USA, Canada, Finland and Germany in Group A are host Slovakia, Denmark, France and Great Britain.
Wolanin and Team USA, which defeated Germany, 5-2, in an exhibition game on May 7, open World Championship play against host Slovakia on Friday, May 10 at 2:15 p.m. ET. Stecher and the Canadians, who knocked off Austria, 7-5, in an exhibition game May 7, begin their quest for a gold medal against Kaski and the Finns also on May 10 at 10:15 a.m. ET. Tiffels and the Germans open preliminary round play a day later on May 11 against Great Britain also at 10:15 a.m. ET. On the final day of preliminary play both pairs of former teammates will go head-to-head. Wolanin and Stecher, who were teammates at North Dakota in 2015-16, square off as the U.S. faces Canada on May 21, while Kaski and Tiffels, who played together at WMU in 2015-16, will tangle as Finland takes on Germany earlier that day. For the complete schedule, click here.
Wolanin (Rochester, Mich.) was a late addition to the Stars and Stripes roster, after splitting time in the NHL and AHL this past season. In his first full professional season, he scored four goals and totaled 12 points in 30 games for the Ottawa Senators, while racking up 31 points in 40 AHL games for their affiliate in Belleville. He also played 10 games for Ottawa at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. A Second-Team All-NCHC selection in 2017-18, Wolanin compiled 22 goals and 72 points in 109 games over three seasons at North Dakota from 2015-18, winning a National Championship as a freshman. He will be making his IIHF competition debut in Slovakia.
Stecher (Richmond, B.C.) starred at North Dakota from 2013-16, winning the national title with Wolanin in his final season at UND in 2016. Stecher was also a Second-Team All-NCHC selection in 2015-16, as well as a Second-Team All-American. During his three seasons at UND, Stecher compiled 13 goals and 53 points in 119 career games. Now a mainstay on the Vancouver Canucks blue line, the former UND assistant captain racked up 23 points in 78 NHL games this season and has 58 points (6g, 52a) in 217 games for the Canucks in his first three professional seasons. Like Wolanin, Stecher is making his IIHF tournament debut.
Tiffels (Cologne, Germany) played three seasons at Western Michigan from 2014-17, racking up 59 career points, including 27 goals, in 105 career games. This past season he played for Kölner Haie in Germany’s top professional division, the DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga), totaling 31 points in 38 games, including the playoffs. Tiffels has played for his native Germany in several IIHF tournaments, including three World Junior Championships (2013-15) and now three straight Men’s World Championships (2017-19).
Kaski (Pori, Finland) played one season at WMU, teaming up with Tiffels in 2015-16, when he scored four goals and compiled 12 points in 31 games on the blue line for the Broncos. Following his year in Kalamazoo, he returned to his native Finland to play in the Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. This past season, Kaski suited up for the Lahti Pelicans, tallying 19 goals and 51 points in 59 regular-season games from the back end. Like Wolanin and Stecher, this will be his first IIHF competition.
Reneau, who is one of only two American referees working the 2019 Men's World Championship, recently completed his first season refereeing for the NCHC. He previously worked in the AHL and ECHL, and also officiated the 2018 IIHF Men’s World Championship in Denmark last year.
Martinez (Rochester Hills, Mich.) is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the L.A. Kings (2012 and 2014). The defenseman played at Miami from 2005-08, compiling 67 points in 123 games over three seasons. Over 10 seasons with the Kings, he’s played in 556 career NHL games, totaling 61 goals and 190 points. Martinez also played on the U.S. National Team last season that earned bronze at the 2018 IIHF World Championship.
Team USA is once again coached by former Miami assistant and former Western Michigan head coach Jeff Blashill, who is now the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. He guided the U.S. to the bronze medal last year. Former North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol is serving as an assistant coach for Team Canada.
The top four finishers in both Group A and Group B advance to the Quarterfinal round, which takes place on Thursday, May 23. The winner of Group A faces fourth place in Group B, second place in Group A faces third place in Group B and so on. The semifinals are set for Saturday, May 25 in Bratislava, with the Gold-Medal and Bronze-Medal Games taking place the following day on May 26 also in Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava.
All Team USA games can be seen live on NHL Network, while all Team Canada games can be seen live on TSN and will be streamed on TSN.ca. In addition, 30 Men’s World Championship games will be streamed on FloHockey.tv, including several of Finland’s and Germany’s preliminary round games.
Sweden is the two-time defending World champions, while the U.S. took home the bronze last season (Switzerland earned silver). Canada earned silver in 2017 after winning gold in 2015 and 2016. Five former NCHC players helped Team USA claim the bronze medal in 2018: forward Blake Coleman (Miami), defensemen Will Butcher (Denver), Jordan Oesterle (WMU) and Neal Pionk (Minnesota Duluth), and goaltender Charlie Lindgren (St. Cloud State).