News | 5/4/2012 12:09:45 PM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS
| Former Amerk defenseman Andrej Sekera
Six Rochester Americans alumni from four different countries are currently in the hunt for gold at the 76th annual 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. The premier international event kicked off earlier today as the United States opened the competition with a 7-3 rout over France. The three-week tournament will conclude with the gold-medal game on Sunday, May 20.
A native of Pelhrimov, Czech Republic, forward Jiri Novotny is in his fifth stint with the Czech national team, having been part of the IIHF World Championships in 2007, 2008, 2010 and again in 2011. After missing the event in 2009, Novotny returned to the pitch in 2010 and guided the Czechs to their first gold medal since 2005. Novotny would contribute six points (1+5) in nine games, good enough for second most on the team, before adding a bronze medal at last year’s tournament to collect medals in back-to-back events for the first time in his international career. After four consecutive seasons (2002-06) with the Amerks, Novotny left Rochester with 105 points (25+80) in 218 career games. In 2005-06, he finished as the team’s top point-getter with 54 points, collecting career-highs along the way in every offensive category in goals (17), assists (37), points (54) and games played (66) en route to being named the Amerks’ scoring champion.
Latvia, one of two countries participating in the tournament to host multiple Amerks alumni, is making its 20th consecutive appearance in the annual event. Led by newly appointed head coach Ted Nolan, the Latvians come into the competition in search of their nation’s first-ever medal after an 11th-place finish at last year’s games. Latvia has also never finished better than seventh in the standings, where it placed three times over the last 15 years, including the 2009 event most recently. In his first season at the helm of the Latvian national team, Nolan spent the previous two seasons in Rochester as the Amerks’ Vice President of Player Operations, a position he held until the summer of 2011 when he returned to the coaching scene, replacing longtime bench boss Olegs Znaroks. It would be Nolan’s second stint in Rochester, however, as the Flower City was home to the former NHL Coach of the Year during the 1984-85 campaign, when he captained the Amerks to a third-place finish in the American Hockey League (40-27-13, 93 points) and a berth in the 1985 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Latvian captain Janis Sprukts 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 Award. The 2012 competition marks Sprukts’ seventh trip to the World Championship, the most among any other Latvian player to participate in the event.
Defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, who has two gold medals to his name in this event, is helping Team Russia in its bid to clinch its third World Championship in five years after helping his countrymen to back-to-back first-place finishes in 2008 and 2009. With a medal in this year’s tournament, it would mark the fifth time in six years the Russians would finish among the top three teams after losing the bronze medal game to the Czech Republic in 2011. Kalinin, a resident of Chelyabinsk, made his professional debut with the Amerks in 1998-99 following three seasons of junior hockey and quickly became a regular among Rochester defensemen. After only appearing in three games at the end of the 1998-99 season, Kalinin erupted for 21 points (2+19) in 75 games the following year, finishing fourth among team blueliners and earning a spot on the 1999-00 AHL All-Rookie Team. Kalinin also notched 11 points (2+9), the most among team blueliners, during the 2000 Calder Cup playoffs, guiding Rochester to the Calder Cup Finals, where it would ultimately fall to the eventual champion Hartford Wolf Pack four games to two.
Forward Milan Bartovic and defenseman Andrej Sekera round out the Amerks alumni for Slovakia, who is looking for its first gold medal since 2002 and its first medal finish since 2003 when it defeated the Czech Republic in bronze medal game. Bartovic, a second-round selection (35th overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, played five seasons (2000-05) in the Flower City, the most among any current former Amerk participating in the event. In 270 American Hockey League games with Rochester, the Trencin native scored 62 goals and 51 assists for 113 points, good enough for 76th on the franchise’s all-time forwards list.
Sekera, who also made his professional debut with the Amerks, finished his AHL career scoring 36 points (5+31) in 94 appearances. After the 2007-08 season, Sekera earned a full-time spot in the defensive corps of the Buffalo Sabres, where he has posted 80 points (15+65) and 98 penalty minutes in 302 career NHL games.