by Ryan Ohashi, Hockey Canada
With a history spanning more than three decades, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is 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 people together.”
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