On the international stage, two athletes representing Red Deer had performances to remember in 2018.
Kelsey Lalor won bronze playing for Canada at the Women’s Baseball World Cup, earned an all-star nod and was the first Canadian women to hit a home run at the event.
Red Deer Rebels defenceman Alex Alexeyev, after he was drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft in June of 2018, had six points in seven games for Russia at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships and won bronze in December.
Alexeyev was honoured Tuesday ahead of puck drop at the Red Deer Rebels game as the Red Deer Advocate Male Athlete of the Year and Lalor earned the award as the Red Deer Advocate Female Athlete of the Year.
“That was my third World Cup, I knew what was expected of me and I knew what other teams had and the pitching I was going to face. In preparing, that was a little bit easier,” said Lalor in a phone interview, fresh off competing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies at the 2019 USports Women’s Basketball Championship.
“There are not quite as many nerves now, I know what it feels like to be in that situation. Looking back on it now, it was definitely a great tournament for me and it’s really cool to look back and now the training I put in, prior to that paid off.”
She said a few moments from the tournament last August stand out, including playing in a tight 2-1 game with Japan, the top-ranked team in the world. Also beating the U.S.A. in the bronze medal game, on American soil was a memorable accomplishment.
“World Cup is always an incredible event. Got to play the U.S. in the bronze medal game and we beat them on their home soil so that was a pretty cool feeling. That was a huge game for us as a team. That had us leaving the tournament with a really good feeling,” she recalled.
Lalor, 21, who also won silver at the 2018 USports Women’s Basketball Championship with the Huskies basketball team said whenever she’s back in Red Deer, people are still always asking about baseball.
She added that for kids looking to take the baseball route and hoping to reach the next level, it is all about hard work and finding an opportunity.
“If they put their minds to it and work for it and that’s something they want to do, it doesn’t matter where you live or what team you play on,” she said.
“You will still be able to create those opportunities for yourself. It’s really based on your motivation as a player and the work you put in outside of practice.”
Other athletes considered for the Female Athlete of the Year were swimmer Kyla Leibel, who at 16, was the youngest swimmer to represent Canada the Pan Pacific Championships and RDC Queens golfer Shaye Leidenius of Ponoka who won silver individually and helped the team win gold at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Championships.
For Alexeyev, who came to Red Deer from Russia in 2016, 2018 was a landmark year. He was drafted by the Washington Capitals 31st overall in the 2018 NHL Draft. That was the first of several career achievements last year and one that still brings a smile to his face today.
“That day is going to stick in my mind forever. It’s one of those moments when you get drafted by the team you were dreaming about since you were a kid. Now it’s happened,” he said.
“I’m still happy about it.”
The blueliner noted a close second was his experience at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships. Alexeyev, 19, had six points in seven games as Russia knocked off Switzerland 5-2 to win bronze. He said winning that championships with guys he had been friends with most of his life was a special moment he won’t soon forget.
“One of the really good experiences for me. I had a really good time. Last tournament with the boys who I played five years with since we were kids,” he said.
“We won bronze, so I was really honoured. I think it’s the best thing ever.”
He added that scoring twice and collecting four assists helped impress the brass of the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.
“It was an amazing tournament for me. All the Washington scouts were there and they all told me I did pretty well and I impressed them. I think I played pretty good,” Alexeyev said.
Nominees for the Male Athlete of the Year included track and field long-distance runner Jared Howse, cross-country skier Owen Pimm, sprinter Jeremiah Lauzon and RDC Cross Country runner Matt Hope.
The Athlete of the Year recognizes amateur athletes able-bodied or with a disability, who have been highly successful in their sport(s) in the past calendar year.