As an OHL rookie, Philip McRae has learned a lot of things on the fly in London this season.
But the 16-year-old Knights forward finally felt like a grizzled veteran after spending the last week in a familiar place -- Slovakia.
The Chesterfield, Mo., native, who played for the U.S. under-17 team before becoming London's first draft pick last summer, returned to the Knights this week after helping his former squad capture top spot for the second straight year at the Vlad Dzurilla tournament in Piestany.
"Same rink, same hotel as last year," McRae said. "I brought my own food this time because I thought it was awful last year. I packed a lot of PowerBars and stuff like that."
The son of Knights minority owner Basil McRae picked up an assist in three games. After tying their first two games against Germany and Switzerland, the U.S. needed to beat Slovakia by at least four goals to claim the round-robin event -- and did with a 5-1 victory.
"It was nice to go back there, but it was all pretty last minute," McRae said. "(Erie forward) Nick Palmieri and I were called in as replacements. Our coach was John Hynes, who is going to be the head coach of the U.S. world junior team next year."
The fact USA Hockey thought to ring him up is a good sign for the skilled skater who chose the Knights over staying with the U.S. national development program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
McRae was the youngest player on the under-17 team that played in last year's Vlad Dzurilla, an annual competition where the U.S. club faces the older under-18 national teams from Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland.
"It's a lot different game because you're on the big ice, which I like, and you weren't expected to play so much of a system as you do here (in London)," McRae said. "There were different expectations of me, too (because of his veteran status). I wasn't asked to be a third- or fourth-line checker."
McRae, who has two goals and 10 points in 50 games for London, missed three games while overseas -- all of which the OHL-leading Knights won. He is looking forward to learning a lot more as his team gears up for what he hopes to be a long playoff run.
"It's going to be exciting the rest of the way," he said.
It looks like London will be going the rest of the way without 18-year-old defenceman Jakub Korinek, who is expected to be a healthy scratch this weekend and could be heading back to the Czech Republic as early as next week.
The blue-liner, claimed off waivers from Sudbury last month, had a goal and six penalty minutes in nine games, but was looking at little playing time with the return of veteran Scott Aarssen from injury and the Knights still carrying eight defencemen.
"We still have a lot of guys here and we have some young kids who we have to play," London general manager Mark Hunter said.
Hunter, who will likely have two import spots available next season if Montreal Canadiens draft pick Sergei Kostitsyn turns pro, is looking at heading to Europe on a scouting trip later this year.