Small town, big time hockey

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The spotlight was on the Town of Bonnyville as it hosted the 2016 World Junior A Challenge (WJAC).

In 2015, it was just a dream that the small town would host such a world-renowned tournament, and yet on Dec. 11, 2016 the world came to Bonnyville.

Last February, the town was officially announced as the host of the 2016 WJAC, a moment that will not be soon forgotten.

“Our group is excited about the opportunity to bring an elite level of hockey to the area, and about the economic spin-off,” said Robb Hunter, co-chair of the local host committee after the announcement.

The tournament featured Canada East, Canada West, Russia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and the United States as they went head-to-head for gold.

In the end, Canada East ended up facing off against the United States for the top spot, losing to their rivals from south of the border with a tough 4-0 loss on Dec. 17.

“I thought we played really well. We got pucks in deep and pressured their defence all night. We didn’t give them an inch and stayed on them all night,” said captain of team USA Matt Helickson after winning the gold medal game.

Overall, the six-day tournament brought in more than just a silver medal for Canada, it also contributed to the local businesses with players and their families sleeping, eating and shopping in the area.

“I don’t think it could have gone any better. It was a sensational week. Everything went incredibly smooth,” said Hunter just days after the big event. “The volunteers were tremendous, the fans were amazing and the support and excitement all around town was more than we could have dreamed of.”

Mayor Gene Sobolewski reflected Hunter’s excitement post-tournament, and said he was proud of his small town for showing the world what a wonderful place it can be.

“One of the biggest surprises I had, was that the teams were in awe of how well they were treated.”

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