Team Canada sings the national anthem after winning the gold medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last week. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

Team Canada sings the national anthem after winning the gold medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last week. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

GUSTAFSON: Covering Hlinka a dream that became reality

It’s a privilege to be able to represent your country on an international stage no matter what sport you’re playing and for a week straight eight hockey teams came to Red Deer to fulfill their dreams of playing for their country at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and showcasing their skills in hopes of being drafted.

As a fairly new reporter six years into the industry, and just months into a new role at The Advocate, I also checked a career goal off my list of events I hoped to cover one day.

Not the Hlinka Gretzky Cup specifically, but an international hockey tournament filled with some of the best players in the world. The tournament in Red Deer was just that, as numerous under-18 NHL prospects vying for their names to be called in the 2023 and 2024 NHL Drafts showed scouts, fans, and media what they can do on the ice.

As a young boy, I always imagined what it would be like to play for Canada, and being at the Peavey Mart Centrium reporting on those games to me was the next best thing and I got a glimpse of what that could be like.

And when I saw Team Canada singing the national anthem and raising the Hlinka Gretzky Cup above their heads after they defeated Sweden in the gold medal game on Saturday, it reminded me why being a sports reporter is so great and so important.

It’s not to be around athletes, or watch games for free, even though those are nice perks of the job. Instead, it’s to be present in big moments and do your best to reflect those into your writing both the gameplay and the emotions of the moment.

And when Canada won the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in one of the most dominant performances I’ve seen defeating Sweden 4-1 in front of roughly 1,500 fans I believe Red Deer Rebels forward Kalan Lind said it best.

“This is the greatest experience of my life that I’ve had ever. I’m out of words, I can’t describe it right now what feeling I’m feeling,” Lind said. “I think it’s every kid’s childhood dream when they play hockey to represent their country. You watch all those World Juniors, the U18 Championships, and then when you get to this age you make the team and It’s surreal.”

Canada head coach Stephane Julien also made a profound statement when he said, “A gold medal, that’s something they’re going to remember all through their career.”

Indeed they will, and if you’re Canadian and were heavily invested in the tournament chances are you will as well.

However, part of me also felt a sense of guilt amid everything happening within Hockey Canada these past few weeks. The organization failed the country and has received a ton of backlash, and deservedly so. It seems, however, they’re going through a culture change that I hope creates change within the hockey community for the better.

I came to the conclusion though that It would also be wrong not to do this tournament justice because the players worked so hard to get to where they are and shouldn’t be punished for others’ mistakes.

It was also important to highlight the other teams who made the long trip to Red Deer. One of those is Slovakia where I talked with 2023 NHL Draft prospect Ondrej Molnar who was visiting Canada for the first time. He expressed pride in playing for his country and excitement for the draft.

“[I’ll] be draft ready in nine months and we have more time and we’ll see,” he said.

The United States also sent a competitive team to highlight their skills like so many others did in front of over 200 NHL Scouts. One of them was Lucas St. Louis, son of NHL legend Martin St. Louis, who was there to watch his son and scout for the Montreal Canadians.

“It’s pretty awesome having him here supporting me and he really helps me a lot in hockey in general,” St. Louis told The Advocate. “He told me to go play the game have fun don’t worry about the scouts or anything just focus on the game. He’s my biggest mentor.”

If you watched a game or two I believe we can all agree having a tournament like this is beneficial to our city and can be a gateway to bigger events down the road. And if you’re a hockey fan like me I hope you could enjoy the abundance of talent with your friends and family on display because opportunities like this don’t come around too often.

I’m proud of the work local media did covering this tournament and I know the younger version of myself would be excited knowing we got to experience it.

Ian Gustafson is the Red Deer Advocate Sports Reporter.

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