Kopecky follows brother's progress at World Juniors
During an off day for the Detroit Red Wings two weeks ago, Tomas Kopecky drove up to Kitchener, Ont., to watch an exhibition game between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, a tune-up for both sides for the recently completed World Junior Championships.
Kopecky watched the game for more than just the interest in his homeland, Slovakia, and its hockey program. It was also a rare chance for Tomas Kopecky to connect with his only sibling, Peter Kopecky -- a 19-year-old forward on Team Slovakia.
Seven years Peter's elder, Tomas is one of 12 Red Wings who played in the most prestigious youth tournament in the world -- it brings together the top under-20 players from the top hockey nations.
In fact, Kopecky played in three World Juniors. In Detroit's locker room, only Jiri Hudler of the Czech Republic can match that. (Marian Hossa, Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula, Henrik Zetterberg and Brian Rafalski each played in two World Juniors. Nicklas Lidstrom, Derek Meech, Brad Stuart, Chris Chelios and Kris Draper each played in one.)
"I know how it is," Kopecky told his younger brother. "If you want to talk, text me, call me."
Peter Kopecky did ok for himself. He was part of a Slovak squad that upset the United States in last Friday's quarterfinal before losing to Sweden in the semifinals and Russia in the consolation final. Slovakia's fourth-place finish was that small nation's second best showing ever at this tournament, trailing on its 1999 bronze medal performance.
"I was talking to him on the phone," said Tomas Kopecky. "I watched every chance I got. That game against the U.S. in the quarterfinal was unbelievable."
Tomas' World Juniors experiences ranged from battling against the Ukraine to avoid relegation to the World Juniors B tournament as a 17-year-old -- Slovakia won and remained in the A pool -- to being a 19-year-old on a team that went undefeated in round-robin play only to be upset by Switzerland in the quarterfinals.
"It was a great experience for me," said Kopecky. "First year, I was just 17. It was my first big international hockey. First year, I was wide-eyed, walking around. The last year, that for me was the best experience. We had a really good team, finished first in our pool."
The World Juniors is a scout's paradise. Some of the tournament players were old enough to be drafted the summer before while others were part of the upcoming draft class. This winter's tournament was a chance to see a first-round pick from 2008 like Columbus' Nikita Filatov (Russia) go up against potential first-rounders in 2009 like Johan Tavares of Canada and Victor Hedman of Sweden.
The tournament rosters are a who's-who of future NHLers. Columbus' starting goalie at Joe Louis Arena, Tuesday, was Steve Mason, who was in net for Canada's 2008 gold-medal victory.
Playing in the World Juniors as a 17-year-old was part of what got Tomas Kopecky drafted by the Red Wings in the second round of 2000.
"It's great for young guys to compare yourself (to other junior stars); It's an eye-opener," said Kopecky. "Every time you play for your country, it's huge. All the people back home -- friends, family -- are watching. It helped me. When you come off the World Juniors, you carry a little confidence back to your team."