Tkachuk captained the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team to a record 10th gold medal.
Tkachuk, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward, assisted on the first goal and Joel Farabee, of Cicero, New York, scored twice to help the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team defeat Finland 4-2 in the gold-medal game of the 2017 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship played in Poprad, Slovakia.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Tkachuk, who is son of Keith Tkachuk, a 19-year NHL veteran and brother of Calgary Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk. “It means the world to me. It’s such a huge honor to represent your country and then to win a gold medal. It’s a privilege few get. There’s only 22 of us on the team. We wanted to do as well as we could.”
Out of the 22 players, Tkachuk was selected as the team’s captain. It’s something he takes pride in receiving.
“It’s a huge honor for me,” said Tkachuk, who went to Chaminade for his freshman year before being accepted into the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to finish school and play hockey. “Wearing the ‘C’ means a lot to me. It’s a privilege to have. It’s real special to me since my dad wore the ‘C,’ too, so that makes it very special to me.
“I’m glad the guys on the team voted me. That means a lot. I always wanted to play for Team USA growing up. I just thought it was the coolest thing. It’s a huge honor every day to wear the jersey. We are representing something bigger than ourselves.”
Players choose in private votes about who they wanted as a captain. Each player selected five names. Then the coaches made the final selection based on those votes.
Tkachuk also picked up another honor from these teammates. This one, however, was unofficial. That does not make it any less important to Tkachuk — he was voted the “most entertaining player” on the team.
“Yeah, that was something fun,” Tkachuk said. “I like to keep things loose. I like to entertain the team. It’s a stressful tournament and with all the practices and games, there’s a lot going on. We wanted to win going into it. So, to relieve some of the pressure, I like to tell jokes. I’m a big joke guy.
“I try to make everyone happy. I try to keep it light. That’s my job.”
That all plays into his leadership style.
“I take being the captain very seriously,” Tkachuk said. “I like to lead on and off ice. I play as hard as I can on the ice. I always try to bring it.”
He was the leader on a terrific team.Before competing in the 2017 IIHF Under-18 World Championships, Team USA won its first two international tournaments this year — the Five Nations in Plymouth in November and the Five Nations in Sweden in February.
That success was a springboard to the tournament in Slovakia.
“Our team was really good. We all believed in each other and in what we were doing. We believe we can win any tournament. The confidence was there. Winning in November at the tournament was the biggest key to our season. We started playing excellent from then to this tournament where we won the gold medal.”
Tkachuk felt his game was grown better in the past year. He leans on his father and brother for advice and critiques.
“I wanted to focus on my explosiveness and getting stronger,” Tkachuk said. “I think I can compare myself to my dad and brother. From my dad, I have his feistiness. From both of them, I like to play around and in front of the net. They are always giving me advice and wishing me the best.”
Tkachuk and his brother, Matthew, now are equal in the gold medal department. Matthew played for the NTDP from 2013-15 and won a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championships.
USA head coach was John Wroblewski also aided Tkachuk and his teammates.
“He helped the team and me as well,” Tkachuk said. “We all became more disciplined. We worked hard every day and he insisted we work our best every day. He preached togetherness and that really helps you win. He wanted me to play a power game and it suits me very well.”
In pool play, Team USA swept through the competition. Only a 5-4 win over Russia was a close game.
“They’re all tough games, no matter the final score,” Tkachuk said. “It was getting scary against Russia. They scored two late goals. There was a little pressure in that game. Beating Russia is always big. There’s a rivalry with them. We both want to win.”
In the quarterfinals, Team USA beat Switzerland 4-2.
In the semifinals, the U.S. beat Sweden 4-3 in overtime. The winning goal came with 21 seconds left in overtime.
It’s a game that left an impression on Tkachuk.
“That was a really exciting game. Sweden is a great team with a lot of great players,” Tkachuk said. “That was one of the most exciting times in my life and one of the most stressful games I ever played in. So much was on the line.”
That led to the championship game against Finland.
The U.S. opened the scoring when Tkachuk stripped a Finland defender of the puck and sent a cross-crease pass to Josh Norris, of Oxford, Michigan, who one-timed a shot past Finland goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukonen.
Team USA jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
“I remember having the puck with 2 seconds left. I threw all my stuff in the air when it was over and I was hugging whoever was close to me,” Tkachuk said. “It was the best feeling I’ve had in a hockey game.”His father and two grandfathers were at the tournament to see him play. Don Oster and John “Chuck” Tkachuk were there to cheer their grandson in the games.
“It was awesome to have them all there watching,” Tkachuk said. “My dad has gotten to see a lot of my games the last years. To have my grandpas there was just great. I got to see them after the games and we got a bunch of pictures.”
Tkachuk will take summer classes at Boston University this summer and play for the Terriers.
“I’m heading there this fall but I’m taking two summer classes so I will be so excited to be there. My dad’s family is there so its the best of both worlds for me to go to school there and have family close by. My dad went there and he’s always talked about it. It was an easy decision for me.”