When Canada West takes the ice at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Sask., a pair of local standouts will get their fair share of the attention.
Cody Young and Evan Weninger, both members of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Kindersley Klippers, will make their international debuts on home ice, playing in front of their home fans.
But it likely doesn’t matter what Young and Weninger do during the tournament; gold medal or not, they’re going to be hard-pressed to become Kindersley’s most famous World Junior A Challenge alumnus.
And a quick look around town explains why.
From promotional materials that have spread across the community for months, to the massive banner that covers the northeast wall of the West Central Events Centre, Sean Flanagan has been the poster boy for the event since shortly after it was awarded to Kindersley in April.
Not only is Flanagan a Kindersley native, he starred on the Klippers’ blue-line for two seasons and was – until Young and Weninger cracked the Canada West line-up this year – the lone Klipper to play in the World Junior A Challenge.
Flanagan, now a sophomore at Minnesota State University, Mankato, wore the red and white in 2010, part of the Canada West contingent that finished fourth in Penticton, B.C.
“My head coach in Kindersley at the time (Larry Wintoneak) was the coach of Canada West that year,” Flanagan says about getting the call to play for Team Canada. “He pulled me into his office to talk about how I was playing at the time, and towards the end of the meeting he just said ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to take you on the team. Congratulations.’
“I was just so excited to go home and tell my parents.”
Flanagan was held without a point in Penticton, and was part of the only Canada West team in the first eight years of the tournament not to win a medal, but still looks back on 2010 with fond memories.
“I remember one game in particular when we played Russia,” he says, “and things got a little heated towards the end of the game. We ended up winning and the whole crowd was on their feet singing and chanting. It was a really cool thing to be part of.”
Given his experience playing in Kindersley and at the World Junior A Challenge, the 22-year-old business student knows what a great opportunity it is for his hometown to host an international event.
“It’s really good hockey,” Flanagan says. “You’ve got the best players from Junior A in Canada, and from around the world coming together. It’s going to be fast-paced, skilled hockey.
“Kindersley is a great hockey town. I don’t know if the pace is something fans will be expecting but it’s going to be exciting.”
While Flanagan fondly remembers the World Junior A Challenge as an opportunity to showcase his skills on a bigger stage, and as an honour to represent his country, Kindersley residents still talk about what Flanagan’s efforts meant to their town.
“Being on that team got some important recognition for the Kindersley Klippers and the hockey program here,” suggests Barry Malindine, a volunteer at this year’s event. “He’s a fourth generation Flanagan. [Weninger and Young] will get a lot of support but I can only imagine what it would have been like if Sean was playing this year.”
Malindine also believes playing at the World Junior A Challenge was a stepping stone for Flanagan, who finished his junior career in British Columbia before moving on to Minnesota, where he earned a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team last season.
It’s hard to argue that sentiment, especially given Flanagan’s attitude towards his experience in 2010.
“It’s a big deal and a huge honour to represent your country,” he says. “Not everyone has the chance to do that, so make the most of it. You have to leave everything out there.
“It was a phenomenal experience. Stepping onto the ice for the first time with the maple leaf on your jersey, and hearing the national anthem play before the game; your heart is racing and it’s a pretty nerve-wracking moment, but it’s one of my favourite memories.”