WHL Throwback Thursday: WHL Cup a launching pad for greatness


Now in the middle of the eighth edition of the tournament, the WHL Cup has showcased future stars in the Western Hockey League and National Hockey League for a decade.

Serving as the start of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence, players will be vying to move up the ranks within the WHL and Hockey Canada while also beginning to put their attention on the 2022 NHL Draft.

When Canada won gold at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, it featured several former 2011 WHL Cup standouts, led by Brayden Point. The future Moose Jaw Warrior and Tampa Bay Lightning forward led that year’s tournament in scoring with nine points (4G-5A) in four games as Alberta won gold.

From British Columbia, Jake Virtanen led his province in scoring with five goals over the four games in 2011. Winning gold with Canada in 2015, Virtanen once again played an offensive role, contributing four points (1G-3A) in seven games on the world stage. Another teammate from B.C., Joe Hicketts steadily patrolled the blue line for Canada at the tournament, playing a key role in the team’s defensive success as he had during his WHL career for the Victoria Royals before moving on to the Detroit Red Wings’ organization.

On his path to the NHL, Jayce Hawryluk represented Manitoba in 2011, helping his province to the best-ever finish where they earned a silver medal. Before embarking on his WHL career with the Brandon Wheat Kings that would culminate with a WHL Championship in 2016, Hawryluk was a top offensive star for his province, posting seven points (3G-4A) in four games.

Though they finished off the podium that year, future Prince Albert Raiders captain Tim Vanstone starred for Saskatchewan with four points in the tournament. Upon the conclusion of his WHL career, Vanstone used his WHL Scholarship to enroll at the University of Calgary where he’s now playing a key role with the Canada West-leading Dinos.

In 2013, Western Canada talent for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship was just beginning to realize their hockey potential. The 2013 edition of the tournament result in more glory for Alberta, with future World Juniors stars Sam Steel, Tyler Steenbergen, and Kale Clague leading their province to victory.

Claiming bronze in 2013 was Manitoba, who were powered by Brett Howden and Nolan Patrick. With Patrick making the full-time jump to the NHL, Howden represented his province well at the international tournament.

Tournament highlights:
2009 – The first edition of the tournament was won by Alberta.
Future NHL players included: Mathew Dumba (AB), Morgan Rielly (BC), Brendan Leipsic (MB), and Derrick Pouliot (SK)

2011 – Alberta won their second gold medal in as many tournaments.
Future NHL players included: Brayden Point (AB), Jake Virtanen (BC), Jayce Hawryluk (MB), and Haydn Fleury (SK)  

2012 – British Columbia claimed their first championship victory.
Future NHL/professional players included: Brendan Guhle (AB), Mathew Barzal (BC), Keegan Kolesar (MB), and Ethan Bear (SK) 

2013 – Alberta took back top spot at the tournament.
Future NHL/professional players included: Sam Steel (AB), Beck Malenstyn (BC), Nolan Patrick (MB), and Garrett Pilon (SK) 

2015 –
Alberta made it back-to-back championships at the tournament.
Current NHL prospects included: Ty Smith (AB), Luka Burzan (BC), Jett Woo (MB), and Carson Focht (SK)

2016 – Alberta earned a third-consecutive gold medal at the tournament.
Current NHL prospects included: Kirby Dach (AB), Sasha Mutala (BC), Trent Miner (MB) and Kaedan Korczak (SK) 

2017 – British Columbia claimed their second championship in the tournament’s history.
2020 NHL Draft prospects included: Kaiden Guhle (AB), Justin Sourdif (BC), Seth Jarvis (MB), and Bryan Thomson (SK)

For now, this year’s group of talent is still in the early stages, having just attended their first training camp with a WHL club after being drafted in May. With their future in front of them, the path to success, in professional hockey and the academic world, is just beginning.

This year’s edition of the WHL Cup runs through Sunday, October 27 at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, Alta.

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