It’s almost unfair that there are no more Hlinka Gretzky Cup games to be played in Red Deer this year.
The action was so good over the course of three days and another day of exhibition games that Red Deer’s role in hosting part of the tournament flew by.
However, ‘the Hlinka’ as it’s affectionately known will return to our city in 2020 (and 2022), and organizers will be doing all they can to improve the experience.
With the exception of Nelson and Castlegar, BC which hosted the tournament in 1996 when it was known as the Pacific Cup, no Canadian city has ever hosted the event.
Merrick Sutter, Senior VP with the Red Deer Rebels, a key player on the host committee, said expectations were exceeded.
“We figured if we can move 5,000 people through Servus Arena over the seven games and then between 750 and 1,000 people in the evening games, it'd be a success and that’s exactly what we did,” Sutter said.
On August 4, Sylvan Lake hosted a sold out exhibition game. In Penhold, 400 people showed up to another, while attendance was quite lower at the third in Lacombe.
Sutter said considering the weather was hot and it was a long weekend in the summer, they’re fairly happy with how things panned out.
“I’ve always viewed Servus Arena as the perfect size facility for this scale of event, so at this point in terms of the next time it comes, I don’t think there's any plans to move it from there,” he added. “From a dressing room standpoint, there was resounding compliments about the player facilities.”
There was some thinking when Red Deer was announced as a co-host that if things went so well, games locally could be played at the Enmax Centrium in the future.
One player in the tournament who will soon call the Centrium home – Red Deer Rebels 2018 CHL Import Draft pick Oleg Zaitsev – suited up for Russia in front of likely many future fans of his.
The highly touted 17-year-old told rdnewsNOW prior to the tournament he hadn’t yet met with Rebels coaching staff, but that has since changed.
“I had a chance a couple days ago to talk with Mr. [Brent] Sutter,” Zaitsev said Wednesday night through a team translator of his next head coach. “We discussed our plans for the future a little bit. We met and said hello to each other and for now that’s all.”
Sporting an ice pack around his right ankle after getting bumped by a skate, Zaitsev also spoke fondly of his first experience in Red Deer.
“Basically people were very kind to us, everyone was smiling and saying hi or waving hello and stuff like that,” he said. “I liked that a lot.”
Zaitsev added that he is working hard every day to become a better player in every facet of the game, and he’s eager to receive help from the coaching staff in Red Deer.
“We're really happy and proud of the job The City did with Servus Arena,” the younger Sutter concluded. “It was a perfect facility for an event like this, and for the Canada Winter Games, it showed how the facility will flow when there’s more than your minor hockey level crowd in there. It went as well as we possibly could have asked.”
The remainder of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is being played in Edmonton Friday and Saturday.
The tournament is expected to have a total economic impact of $5 million between Red Deer and Edmonton.
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