Hlinka Gretzky Cup
an annual summer hockey tradition, being played in five countries since
Yokohama and Sapporo, Japan hosted the 1991 Phoenix Cup.
So it’s fitting, as the tournament returns to Canadian ice for the third
time, that Red Deer plays host.
The city’s ties to the tournament run deep – the Red Deer Rebels of the Western
Hockey League (WHL) have sent more players to
Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team than any other Canadian junior club; Team Canada forward Kalan Lind is the
18th Rebel to wear the Maple Leaf.
There’s a pride that comes with representing the team … and the city.
“I was drafted by Red Deer when I was 14, and being from B.C. I didn't know
exactly where it was; now, 23 years later, I still live here today,” says
former Rebels captain Colin Fraser. “Red Deer is a smaller city that just
loves hockey and always has.”
Fraser was part of Team Canada at the
2002 Eight Nations Cup in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, scoring twice and adding an assist in
five games to help Canada to gold. The roster that year included names like
Phaneuf, Seabrook, Richards and Perry.
He captained the Rebels in the last of his four seasons in Central Alberta
in 2004-05, the same year he won gold with Canada at the
2005 IIHF World Junior Championship, arguably the best Canadian team ever at the World Juniors.
“In the moment, you almost take it for granted; you look back now and you
realize as an old guy how lucky you were to get the chance to play with and
against all these superstars, all-stars, Stanley Cup champions and Olympic
Gold medallists,” says Fraser, who himself won Stanley Cups with Chicago
(2010) and Los Angeles (2012).
Working today as a Western Canada scout for the Blackhawks based out of Red
Deer, Fraser sees the tournament as the official start to the scouting
season and the lead-up to the 2023 NHL Draft.
“On that side of things, the importance of seeing the top draft picks for
next season here, all under one roof and playing against each other it
really gets things off on a good foot,” he says. “It lets you see where
they are at the beginning of the season.”
Another former Rebels captain has a unique perspective on the connection
between hockey, Red Deer and Team Canada.
Brandon Sutter is a Red Deer native who played 205 games across parts of
four seasons with the Rebels, a team owned by his father, Brent (who also
serves as Rebels president and general manager). Sutter was part of Team
Canada at the
2006 U18 Junior World Cup, posting two assists in four games as Canada won gold.
“It’s a community that just loves hockey,” says the Vancouver Canucks
forward, who also played in a pair of IIHF U18 World Championships and the
2008 IIHF World Junior Championship. “On weekends, people love spending time at the Centrium – it’s just kind
of what you do. You grow up playing minor hockey here and when you get
older you realize what a draw junior hockey is, it really brings a lot of
Sutter recalls the 2006 summer U18 tournament as one of his first great
international experiences. He points to the new experiences and the timing
of the event in the late summer as to what made it a truly unique event.
“When I played it was in Piestany, and that was like a different world – it
was a really cool experience,” he says. “I remember going to the
[selection] camp in the summer; it was kind of the first time I got to go
to a camp with all these guys from all over Canada, a lot of the guys from
out east you maybe only knew by name.
“All those [U18 world championship] experiences were great, but that
[summer U18] tournament was the one where every kid was available. It was
always the cream of the crop of your age across Canada, so it was pretty
cool to be on that team where you really earn your spot.”
Sutter is proud of the work his father and brother (Merrick, the Rebels’
senior vice-president) have done. They have been integral to the city and
franchise hosting some of the largest events in Canadian junior hockey.
“Just the way Dad and Merrick have really taken care of the organization
and have promoted different Hockey Canada and CHL events, it’s pretty
unique,” Sutter says. “Not many communities of 100,000 people get those
kinds of experiences.”
“Brent and Merrick do such a professional job of bringing in events like
the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the World Juniors [and] the Memorial Cup to this
area; they really put Red Deer on the map for hockey,” Fraser adds. “I
consider myself really lucky to have played for Brent – I learned a lot of
the values, work ethic and just the intangibles of how to be a
professional. He does that as a coach and the organization does all these
things to try and make you a better pro.
“If the Rebels are doing something, it's always top notch – no short cuts.”
REBELS TO PLAY WITH CANADA’S NATIONAL MEN’S SUMMER UNDER-18 TEAM
2022 – Kalan Lind
2015 – Josh Mahura
2014 – Adam Musil
2013 – Haydn Fleury
2012 – Kayle Doetzel
2011 – Matt Dumba
2010 – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
2009 – Alex Petrovic
2006 – Brandon Sutter
2002 – Colin Fraser, Dion Phaneuf
2001 – Derek Meech
2000 – Jeff Woywitka
1998 – Ross Lupaschuk, Kyle Wanvig
1997 – Stephen Peat
1995 – Arron Asham
1994 – Mike McBain