Team Central hoisted the Alberta Cup last year and in 2019, the tournament will be held at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre. (Photo courtesy of LA Media)

Alberta Cup promises to be big display for local hockey fans

Jordan Eberle was a key piece to the New York Islanders sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2019 NHL Playoffs.

At 28, his four goals in four games against the Penguins were arguably the most impactful of his career.

Of course, Oilers fans will remember his rollercoaster ride through seven seasons there, before he was jettisoned to Long Island.

But long before all that, and even a few years ahead of his steady production with the Regina Pats in the WHL, Eberle was a star at the 2005 Alberta Cup. He had six goals in five games for Team Calgary that year.

The 2019 Alberta Cup, which features the best Bantam-age players from across Alberta, arrives in Red Deer on April 24. The six-team tournament style event is is a considered a hockey hotbed for WHL scouts and features the top 120 players in the province.

In the NHL playoffs alone this season, 17 players at one time played in the Alberta Cup. Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk made an appearance in 2011 and most recently defenceman Jake Bean of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013.

Not only will the 2004-born players at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre this week be stars in the WHL like Kirby Dach and Peyton Krebs – it’s likely they’ll be impact players in the NHL in the not so distant future.

“I think people underestimate this is a great level of hockey. You’re getting to see future Western Hockey League players and future NHL players develop in front of you. It’s pretty cool… They’re just playing for the love of the game,” said Hockey Alberta’s Michael Kraichy.

“Their enthusiasm and for staff wanting to work their way up, the energy is infectious. Great opportunity to see up and coming Western Hockey League players. There could be some future Rebels here.”

As for local talent, 10 players from the Red Deer Bantam AAA Rebels will suit up at the tournament including seven for Team Black (Forwards Nolan Larson, Nate Danielson, Ty Daneault, along with defencemen Avery Trotter, Kaiden Ellertson, Connor Claughton and goalie Kaden Toussaint) and three on Team Blue (defenceman Cole Fox as well as forwards Nash Bamford and Tyler MacKenzie).

“I’ve been here 10 years and I don’t remember another year, I don’t recall having this many Central Alberta players playing in the Alberta Cup,” added Kraichy.

“I think it’s a big deal for them to play in front of friends and family. It’s going to be a pretty cool experience.”

It will also serve as a chance to evaluate the players that will represent Alberta at the 2019 WHL Cup in October and really examine how they conduct themselves off the ice as well.

“What we’re looking for is good hockey players, but more importantly, we’re looking for good people. That character piece cannot be undervalued,” said Kraich.

WHL scouts will be out in droves for the five-day tournament, as the Alberta Cup is the last of all the Western Canadian branch events. B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba have already hosted their bantam provincial gatherings. This version of the Alberta Cup also brings scouts to the same site as the WHL Bantam Draft, which takes place in Red Deer on May 2. It is one of the only times in the last decade the two events will be held in the same city.

Hockey Alberta is also embracing another chance to show off the new Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre to the hockey world.

“Hosting major events and programs in this facility was always one of the major goals of this partnership for Hockey Alberta,” added Hockey Alberta CEO Rob Litwinski.

“We’ve been fortunate to have already hosted a number of events and programs in this facility and our head office, and holding one of our premier events in the Alberta Cup in Central Alberta, in our new home is something we’re really looking forward to.”

To get more information on the tournament or to buy tickets, check out Tournament play gets underway Wednesday at 9 a.m., with five games through the day. The finals for the Alberta Cup are Sunday at 2 p.m.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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