The Hlinka Gretzky Cup opened to much fanfare in Sylvan Lake on Aug. 4,with a pre-tournament exhibition game held at the NexSource Centre.
The Hockey Canada sponsored U-18 tournament was held in Red Deer and Edmonton, and the exhibition games were part of a concerted effort by Hockey Canada to generate interest in the tournament in local communities. Sylvan Lake along with Penhold, Lacombe and Red Deer all hosted pre-tournament exhibition games.
Around 800 hockey fans made their way into the NexSource Centre to watch the world’s best U-18 hockey players shake off their jet lag and reignite their hockey skills.
The game generated quite a bit of excitement in Sylvan Lake with Mayor Sean McIntyre in attendance along with Stanley Cup winner and Sylvan Lake alumni, Colin Fraser.
The Sylvan Lake game was one of the highest attended pre-tournament exhibition games.
“We really wanted it to be a community event not just the game and that’s it; that’s why we had the flag bearers and the kids playing during the intermission,” Sean Durkin, recreation and culture manager, said.
The Sylvan Lake business community also supported the event by donating and sponsoring up to $10,000.
A number of local businesses were on hand during the game including local craft beer company Snake Lake Brewing.
Hosting an exhibition game from a world tournament is not only a considerable accomplishment, but one that can greatly benefit the local community.
“It really put Sylvan Lake on the map by showing how we can showcase these kinds of events; specially one on the world stage,” Durkin said.
While the impact to local business may be hard to quantify, according to Durkin, it has been suggested that the tournament could generate in excess of $5 million within the region.
Perhaps, though, the greatest impact for the smaller communities, in particular those hosting exhibition games, is national and international exposer.
Hosting the game not only exposed Sylvan Lake nationally and internationally as a “bright, fun, and welcoming town,” but also further solidified the town’s legacy as one of Canada’s great hockey towns.
“The game set the tone for the future when we know we can host these events; we can be evolved in them, and we can have a real successful outcome,” Durkin said.