What a ride the past week and a half has been.
The 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup has come and gone, and with it a very successful season of hockey for the Red Deer Rebels.
As a rookie sports reporter covering his first season of Major Junior hockey in Red Deer, having the opportunity to go to and report on an event as prestigious as the legendary Memorial Cup tournament has been an incredible experience.
But through all of the hustle and bustle in the media centre throughout the tournament, I kept hearing one thing from the many reporters, photographers and cameramen who filtered through the Centrium last week and it is a thought that I would like to relay to you now.
Red Deer, you guys killed it.
Everyone involved in the tournament, from the many volunteers, to the organizers, the fans in the stands and the players on the ice, strove to make the tournament a resounding success and it didn’t go unnoticed.
“Right from our own organization right through to people who were the co-chairs of the event, the chair people, all the volunteers, they did an outstanding job. I’m very proud how this has all worked out and I truly believe that we ran a first class event here,” said Rebels’ owner, Head Coach and General Manager Brent Sutter during his final media availability of the tournament on Friday night.
From the perspective of a reporter who spent almost 10 straight days at the Centrium, I wanted to take some time to recognize and thank all of the volunteers who worked to make my life, and the lives of those around me, easier over the course of the tournament while we tried to file stories and photos after games.
I’d also like to recognize the fans who made the trip out to the Centrium to watch the games. The arena was packed and rocking from the moment the puck dropped on the opening game until well after Matthew Tkachuck sniped the Memorial Cup winning goal in overtime for the London Knights.
Even in games that didn’t involve the host Rebels, or any Western Hockey League team for that matter, the place was buzzing. By the time the final between the Knights and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies went into overtime, the environment was electric, with fans picking one of the two teams and cheering for them like they were their own.
It was an amazing thing to see, hockey fans enjoying the game. Standing on the ice as London was presented with the Memorial Cup, I genuinely forgot where I was for a minute.
But even that had nothing on games that involved the Rebels.
I’ll never forget the deafening roar that went up from the hometown faithful when Evan Polei scored his overtime winner in the round-robin game against Brandon. All of the emotion that has been pent up since the Wheat Kings eliminated the Rebels in the Eastern Conference final a month ago came out in a single moment of triumph. It was incredible.
And the send off that was given to the Rebels after a hard fought 3-1 loss to the Huskies in the semi-final. Standing on the concourse, I could feel how proud the fans and the City are of the team that came away from the tournament of champions an even 2-2 and out-shot the QMJHL champs 37-27 in the second last game only to be thwarted by a red hot Chase Marchand.
So hold your heads high, Red Deer, because you’re going to be a tough act to follow when Windsor, Ontario holds the tourney this time next year.