Canada Winter Games enjoys successful first week despite chilly start

The heart of Canadian amateur sport has been on full display in Red Deer, Calgary and parts of the Canadian Rockies this week as the 2019 Canada Winter Games wraps up its first week of competition.

Second wave of more than 1,000 athletes to arrive in Red Deer Saturday for Week 2

Two boxers compete at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer. (Canada Winter Games)

The heart of Canadian amateur sport has been on full display in Red Deer, Calgary and parts of the Canadian Rockies this week as the 2019 Canada Winter Games wraps up its first week of competition.

The games, which kicked off last Friday with the opening ceremonies at the Centrium in Red Deer, have been going on at several venues in Red Deer, Canada Olympic Park in Calgary and at the Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis.

"It's world class for these young athletes to compete in," said Guy Napert-Frenette, media information officer with the games.

"Despite the very cold weather we had to start, all the athletes managed to pull through and delivered some pretty amazing performances," he said.

The games kicked off with more than 1,000 athletes competing in 10 different sports including table-tennis, ringette and hockey.

Alberta's U16 hockey team is made up of 20 players, 10 of whom are from Edmonton and surrounding communities. Many of these players will be drafted next year by major junior hockey teams in the Western Hockey League.

Team Alberta got off to a good start, said coach Bobby Fox.

Getting the boys used to each other and a new team system has been the biggest challenge, Fox said.

"They're really skilled players with their club teams. But now it's the best versus the best; some guys responding and some guys still have a ways to go."

The medal round for hockey is scheduled for Friday night at the Centrium.

The 7,111-seat arena is expected to be near capacity for the final and organizers say many of the events have seen huge crowds all week long.

'New experience'

"The last two, three days have been jam packed," said Napert-Frenette. "There's been sold-out crowds at biathlon, at speed-skating, at ringette, gymnastics; all these sports are gathering a lot of attention from a fan perspective from a crowd perspective."

Saturday is the turn around day for the Canada Winter Games. That's where athletes who competed during the first week head home, and a new crop of athletes competing in different sports make their way to Red Deer for the final week.

Fort Saskatchewan's Nicholas Gagnon is one of them. The 17-year-old top-ranked Judo competitor has been training at the Alberta regional judo training center in Lethbridge.

Gagnon says this is a huge event and experience for him, one that only comes around every four years.

"It's going to be a very new experience," said Gagnon, who is attending his first Canada Winter Games competition.

His sister Alex, who competed in the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Judo as well, has already been giving him tips on what to expect.

"I'm just excited right now. I know Westerns was absolutely phenomenal so, I'm excited for this one. This is one of the biggest games events you'll get in Canada so it'll be great," Gagnon said.

Gagnon will train in Red Deer this weekend as he gets ready to make his debut on Wednesday.

Information on the events, venues and athletes as well as tickets can be found on the Canada Winter Games website.

The closing ceremonies are Saturday, Mar. 2.

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