No team has placed more players in Canada’s summer U18 men’s squad than the Red Deer Rebels, and the iconic WHL franchise is back in the spotlight as Red Deer hosts the Hlinka Gretzky Cup
With a history spanning more than three decades, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is an annual summer hockey tradition, played in five countries since Yokohama and Sapporo, Japan hosted the Phoenix Cup in 1991.
As the tournament returns to Canadian ice for the third time, it’s fitting that Red Deer host it.
The city’s connection to the tournament runs deep – the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Red Deer Rebels have fielded more players on Canada’s summer men’s U18 national team than any other Canadian junior club; Team Canada forward Kalan Lind becomes the 18th Rebel to wear the Maple Leaf.
It’s a pride to represent the team… and the city.
“I was drafted by Red Deer when I was 14 and being from BC I wasn’t sure where it was; Now, 23 years later, I still live here today,” said former Rebel captain Colin Fraser. “Red Deer is a smaller town that just loves and always has loved hockey.”
Fraser was part of Team Canada at the 2002 Eight Nations Cup in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where he scored two goals and added an assist in five games to help Canada to gold. The list this year included names such as Phaneuf, Seabrook, Richards and Perry.
He captained the Rebels for the last of his four seasons in 2004-05 in central Alberta, the same year he won gold with Canada at the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship, arguably the best Canadian team of all time at the World Juniors.
“Right now you almost take it for granted; Looking back now, as an old man, you realize how lucky you were to be able to play with and against all these Superstars, All-Stars, Stanley Cup winners and Olympic champions,” said Fraser, with whom he won Stanley Cups himself has Chicago (2010) and Los Angeles (2012).
Fraser, who now works out of Red Deer as a scout for the Blackhawks in western Canada, sees the tournament as the official start of the scouting season and in preparation for the 2023 NHL Draft.
“On that side of things, it’s important to see the top draft picks for next season here, all under one roof and playing against each other, that really gets things moving in a good direction,” he says. “It shows where they are at the start of the season.”
Another former Rebel captain offers a unique perspective on the connection between hockey, Red Deer and Team Canada.
Brandon Sutter is a Red Deer native who has played 205 games in split four seasons with the Rebels, a team owned by his father Brent (who also serves as the Rebels’ president and general manager). Sutter was part of Team Canada at the 2006 U18 World Junior Championships, providing two assists in four games as Canada won gold.
“It’s a community that just loves hockey,” said the Vancouver Canucks forward, who has also competed in two IIHF U18 World Championships and the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship. “People like to hang out at the Centtrium on weekends – that’s just the way you do it. You grow up playing minor hockey here and as you get older you realize what a tie junior hockey is, it really brings a lot of people together.”
Sutter remembers the 2006 U18 summer tournament as one of his first major international experiences. He points to the new experiences and timing of the event in late summer, which has made it a truly unique event.
“When I played it was in Piestany and it was like another world – it was a really cool experience,” he says. “I remember going to
[selection] camp in summer; It was kind of the first time I went to camp with all these guys from all over Canada, a lot of the guys from the East that you might only know by name.
“All these [U18 world championship] Experiences were great, but that
[summer U18] Tournament was the one where every kid was available. It was always the crème de la crème of your age across Canada, so it was pretty cool to be on this team where you really earn your place.”
Sutter is proud of the work his father and brother (Merrick, senior vice president of the rebels) have done. They are an integral part of the city and franchise that host some of the biggest events in Canadian junior hockey.
“The way Dad and Merrick have really taken care of the organization and sponsored various Hockey Canada and CHL events is quite unique,” says Sutter. “Not many communities of 100,000 people have experiences like this.”
“Brent and Merrick do such a professional job when it comes to organizing events like the Hlinka Gretzky Cup or the World Juniors [and] the commemorative trophy for this area; They really put Red Deer on the hockey map,” adds Fraser. “I feel very fortunate to have played for Brent – I’ve learned a lot about the values, the work ethic and just the intangibles of being a professional. He does that as a coach and the organization does all those things to try and make you a better professional.
“When the Rebels do something, it’s always first class – no shortcuts.”
REBELS PLAY WITH CANADA’S SUMMER MEN’S U18 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