Local forward headed to AJHL
Rhett Gardner of the Moose Jaw Generals was named player of the game for Team West for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge on Wednesday evening against Team Pacific. Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
The decision to play hockey in his home rink or step into a more challenging league has been on the mind of Rhett Gardner for a while.
The local athlete recently made the difficult choice to head west to Okotoks, Alta. to play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) with the Okotoks Oilers.
“I’ve been talking to them for the last couple of years since I started midget and looking at playing down in college,” he explained. “This year rolled around and I knew it was either going to have to be Generals or move up a level.”
Gardner played with the Moose Jaw Generals for three seasons, including last season as the team’s captain. He also made his debut with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) late last season. He went to their camp, but didn’t end up making the team earlier this spring.
“Green Bay didn’t work out, so I thought that Okotoks would be the next best thing for me,” said Gardner. “They took two older imports. They just ran out of imports because they are only allowed four from out of America.”
He had hoped he would make the Gamblers roster out of that camp, but is happy with how the future is turning out now.
“Looking back, I think Okotoks is a better option,” he explained. “It is closer to home and it will be a more comfortable first step moving up.”
The Generals announced at the end of the season that the team would be the host for the 2014 Telus Cup national championship. Although Gardner knew the experience would be great, he couldn’t allow that to be the defining choice in his decision.
“It definitely made the decision a lot tougher, but I just treated it like any other season. I didn’t want one thing to weigh on my whole decision,” he stated. “It will definitely be tough to give that up…it is an unreal experience and once in a lifetime. But, I think going to Okotoks is going to pay off in the end and that’s what I am worried about.”
Gardner stated that there are no hard feelings towards the Generals and that this decision was based on his development.
“This is all about my game. I owe a lot of my game to Ray (Wareham). He has taught me everything. He has made me a lot of what I am today, so I owe a lot of this to him,” he said. “There are no hard feelings, just it was a matter of time for me to step up in my play and I needed a better challenge.”
He leaves for Alberta on Monday and the camps begin later that week. The exhibition season begins Aug. 27 for the Oilers.
“I think they want me to be a contributor right when I show up. My goal is to work hard and get that done for them,” he said. “I just knew for my game that I needed to go up a level and be challenged more with older and stronger guys.”
Gardner will enter his Grade 12 year in Alberta this fall and still has his sights set at going to North Dakota for college in the upcoming years.
“The plan is to play two years of junior then go to North Dakota one year out of high school,” he said.
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