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Vegas rolls the dice on a pair of Park players in NHL Draft

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Vegas helped them defy the odds.

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The chances of two Park pals being drafted by the same NHL team are in theory 32-1, but in practicality much longer than that. However, lifelong buddies Jordan Gustafson and Ben Hemmerling both found themselves donning the same jerseys after the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal earlier this month.

The fact that it was the Vegas Golden Knights who made their odd-defying dreams come true was ironic, at least in an Alanis Morrisette way.

The first to hear his name called was Gustafson, selected 79th overall in the third round by Vegas.

A forward, Gustafson recorded 52 points (23 goals, 29 assists) in 58 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League this season and added 16 points in 25 playoff games as he helped Seattle to the WHL Final.

“It was pretty cool,” said the five-foot-10, 18-year-old Ardrossan native. “I was just with my mom and dad at home and when I saw my name on the board on the TV, I was super pumped. Going to a place like Vegas, that is such a thrill for me. That was one of the top places I wanted to go to, and I was so pumped to see my name. It was a pretty special moment.”

Sherwood Park native Ben Hemmerling earned 47 points in 57 games with the WHL's Everett Silvertips this season.Photo supplied
Sherwood Park native Ben Hemmerling earned 47 points in 57 games with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips this season.Photo supplied

Hemmerling was chosen 177th overall, getting a bit nervous as he waited until the sixth round.

The 18-year-old Sherwood Park native earned 47 points (10 goals, 37 assists) in 57 games with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, adding four points in six playoff appearances.

“Draft day was a roller coaster of emotions,” said Hemmerling, also a forward listed at five-foot-10. “I was sitting there with family and friends and watching all the names get called and you start to get stressed when you hit the later rounds, but I was just thrilled when I finally got selected. You couldn’t ask for a better organization to go to.”

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Lifelong pals Jordan Gustafson and Ben Hemmerling both found themselves selected by Vegas in the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal earlier this month.  Photo supplied
Lifelong pals Jordan Gustafson and Ben Hemmerling both found themselves selected by Vegas in the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal earlier this month. Photo supplied

Even better was the added bonus of seeing a close friend get taken by the same team.

“I’ve known Ben my whole life, he is one of my longest lasting friends,” Gustafson said. “We played hockey together when we were five years old and kind of worked our way up from there and played a lot of spring hockey together and for Team Brick. We traveled all over the country playing together. It was pretty special when we saw his name called him too and pretty cool that we both ended up with the same team. We were all just so happy that he ended up in the same spot. It was definitely very special for both our families, quite the day.”

“We have played together since we were something like four in minor hockey in Strathcona County and spring hockey as well,” Hemmerling added. “We definitely grew up close over the years. When we got to Bantam and Midget we kind of ended up in different places, but we kind of got back together both being on teams in the Pacific Northwest in Junior with Seattle and Everett. It was neat that we both got called to the same team in the NHL Draft. What are the odds of that? I was super stoked to go to Vegas with him. It would be super crazy if we ended up with them down the line. You dream of playing in the NHL your whole life and having the chance to do it with a guy you started out playing with would be pretty incredible.”

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Photo supplied

Gustafson gutted when appendicitis ruins rookie camp

The Park players both attended the Golden Knights recent rookie development camp in Vegas and were glad for each other’s support. Even though he had a good start, things did not end up going well at all for Gustafson, however.

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“It made it a lot easier for the developmental camp, having a familiar face there,” he said. “Unfortunately, I only played for two days and then I got appendicitis. I had to go to the hospital and have my appendix removed. It was kind of an odd experience for me and I am still recovering from it. But all-in-all, it was nice to go down there and meet all the staff and check out the facility. It was super cool with a lot of top-notch pros helping us out. It was definitely cool to get to go down there and meet everybody and check everything out. But it was brutal timing with the appendix. I only got to do three practices.”

“Knowing someone else there, that made the transition a lot easier, that’s for sure,” Hemmerling said. “The camp was awesome. They were definitely long days, but filled with lots of things that you can take home with you, even things like nutrition and cooking classes and mental skills classes. There was a bunch of stuff off the ice as well as on it with their skill coaches. It was too bad that Jordan ended up in the hospital. I felt for him. That was some tough luck there, but he will be back in no time.”

Both players were given similar things to work on if they hope to work their way up the hockey ladder.

“I have to get my strength up,” Hemmerling said. “I have always been a smaller guy. I just need to get that going.”

“The biggest thing for me is that I need to get stronger, to get quicker,” echoed Gustafson. “I need a faster top-end speed. Getting stronger will round out all areas of my game — it will help out my shot and my speed and give me a stronger base and foundation, so I am not getting knocked off the puck in the corners. I am really focusing on a lot of different stuff right now and hopefully it will all come to me.”

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