Team West will face Slovakia in exhibition play
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Rhett Gardner, left, from the Moose Jaw Generals fights through the check of Jackson Michalenko from the Saskatoon Blazers.
Since returning from a shoulder injury, Rhett Gardner has been almost unstoppable. He has scored seven goals in four games, including a hat trick to lead the Moose Jaw Generals over the Swift Current Legionnaires on Dec. 20 — their last league game before the Christmas break.
Gardner missed a month, but still leads the Generals in points and is currently 11th in league statistics. Although the Generals will be headed to Calgary to compete at the Mac’s AAA Hockey Tournament beginning Boxing Day, their captain will not be joining the team.
Gardner was picked to be part of Team West for the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge taking place in Drummondville and Victoriaville, Que. from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4.
The team features the top 16 year olds from Manitoba and Saskatchewan and the tournament showcases the top players from five regions including Pacific, West, Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic and European teams as well. For many of the players chosen, this tournament is the first step into Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence.
For Gardner, not only is this an opportunity to play at an elite level, but also be able to meet up with some of his friends he hasn’t seen in awhile.
“Just to see all those guys. I played with a lot of them last year at the U16s and a lot of them are in the Western Hockey League now, so I don’t get to see them,” he said. “But to just get back with all those good guys and hopefully get some wins out east.”
Gardner is just one of five midget players to be named to the roster — the others include goaltender Rylan Parenteau, defenceman Travis Sanheim and forwards Ryley Lindgren and Kolten Olynek.
Although Gardner is having a great sophomore season with the Generals and is leader on and off the ice, he isn’t expecting to have much pressure put on him to score and be an offensive player at this tournament.
“I think there is a lot of skill there and a lot of goal scoring. I think I will be a third or fourth line shut down guy…shutting down their top lines,” he stated. “I’m just happy to be there.”
Since coming back from injury, Gardner feels stronger and has shown that on the ice, dominating offensively and is a big part of the Generals special teams unit. The power forward realizes there will be scouts watching the tournament, but he can focus on his play and what the coaches ask of him.
“I think only if you make it more pressure. I think there is going to be good competition. There are always going to be people watching, but I think if I just focus on my game and play my game — that what has got me here, so that’s what I have to do,” he stated.
Team West will also feature Moose Jaw Warrior rookies Josh Uhrich and Miles Warkentine. The team will play an exhibition game against Slovakia on Dec. 28 and their first preliminary game will be against Sweden on Dec. 29. Team West is in Group A which also includes Team Pacific, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Group B features Slovakia, United States, Team Ontario, Team Quebec and Team Atlantic.