The World Junior A Challenge (WJAC) came to a close Saturday evening in front of a packed RJ Lalonde arena.
As the gold medal game came to an end, so did the week-long celebration in the Town of Bonnyville. The town had invited the world, and the world left impressed.
“The tournament was great; the facility is great, this is a great rink. I want to thank the Bonnyville Pontiacs for letting us use their rink. The people of Bonnyville are awesome and have been so nice to us,” said USA captain Matt Hellickson.
The tournament showcased some of the great young talent who are playing in the Canadian Junior Hockey League including Cale Makar who tied a WJAC record in for points by a defenceman. “I am fortunate to play here in the Alberta Junior Hockey League a couple times a year. The town has been unbelievable. The fans come out to every game and it’s been great. I can’t say enough about everything. All the food, the way everything was organized was just exceptional and I can’t say enough,” said Makar.
For locals who witnessed the preparation, the reaction from visitors was no surprise.
“From a hype standpoint and excitement standpoint I hope people realize just how special of an event this was. The time it took to create such an enormous undertaking is phenomenal. You have to be so proud of the people and the volunteers that are involved,” said Canada West assistant coach and Bonnyville Pontiacs head coach and general manager Rick Swan. “Living in Bonnyville I recognize it, but the people who came here to see a world event and to see players who are going to eventually play in the National Hockey League is phenomenal. For me to be a part of that and to share that with the good people in our community, I feel pretty privileged.”
“What a week. This was a fantastic event that allowed us to showcase our community to the world, and share the passion for the game Bonnyville has,” said Robb Hunter, co-chair of the host organizing committee. “I cannot say thank you enough to the volunteers who gave their time, and to the fans who came out all week to support their community and the teams who put on a great show on the ice.”
The gold medal game was broadcast across the country on Saturday night. The TSN crew and play-by-play, who have both been here before had nothing but nice things to say about the people of Bonnyville.
“Bonnyville is great, it is one of those awesome Alberta towns. It’s just everything that Alberta is about,” said Ryan Rishaug, who was in town doing the TSN gold medal broadcast. “It’s a hockey community.”
TSN director of scouting Craig Button added, “In these communities, it’s the people that make up the community. The people that are so welcoming and so open and their hospitality is incredible. It’s not anything that surprises me because it just speaks to Canadian values and it speaks to the Canadian warmth. Despite the cold weather there is always going to be Canadian warmth.”