Merritt’s Tkac gets World Juniors invite

Merritt Centennials forward Daniel Tkac has been invited to Team Slovakia’s selection camp for the 2020 World Junior Championships.

The 18-year-old is a dual American-Slovakian citizen as he was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., but both of his parents are from Slovakia.

He leaves for training camp in Slovakia on Dec. 7.

“I have to go into camp and play my best hockey and see how that goes,” he said. “But the opportunity is unbelievable to get that chance. You’ve just got to work hard and play your best hockey when you get there. I can’t wait.”

This year’s World Junior tournament takes place from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Ostrava and Třinec in the Czech Republic, right near the Slovakian border, which means Slovakia should have plenty of support all tournament long.

“I think there will be a lot of fans there,” said Tkac. “It would be amazing to play in that kind of atmosphere. If it does happen, which I really hope it does, I’ll be really excited.”

The World Juniors have become a holiday tradition in Canada and it’s often said that no one cares about the tournament as much as Canadians, but for someone who’s lived in Slovakia and the U.S. his whole life, the tournament is still something he’s always dreamed of playing in.

“Every kid growing up wants to make that tournament,” said Tkac. “It’s the biggest tournament in junior hockey. When you get that chance, you want to make it happen.”

This isn’t the first time Tkac has represented his country on the international stage as he played for Slovakia at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in 2018.

“It was an unbelievable experience to play against the top guys around the world,” he said. “It was really nice to see what that kind of hockey is like.”

Although he was born in the U.S., Tkac and his family moved back to Slovakia seven years ago and that’s the country he currently calls home. He played a lot of his youth hockey in Slovakia, but decided to come back to North America to further his hockey career.

After playing in the U.S. for several years, he decided to come north to Merritt in 2018 to start his junior career.

With any hockey player, there’s always an adjustment period when they make the jump to the next level and Tkac was no different.

Last year, he had 14 points in 46 regular-season games, but so far this year he’s at almost a point per game with 20 in 24 contests.

“It’s a really fast league,” he said. “You have to make decisions quickly, so you have to get used to it. It took some time, but I think I’m used to it now.”

Slovakia is in Group A of the World Juniors along with Finland, Kazakhstan, Sweden and Switzerland.

Slovakia opens the tournament Dec. 27 against Kazakhstan.