Almost four years ago, Jackson Whistle was wearing the colours of the Kelowna Rockets and playing for the Memorial Cup.
Fast forward, and the goaltender’s jersey are now flush with the colours of Great Britain (GBR), as he joins the nation’s hockey squad at the 2019 IIHF Hockey World Championships, playing against the top teams in the world.
“Playing at this calibre is cool, and getting to represent your country is a special thing to do,” said Whistle.
Unlike Canada, Great Britain does not rank highly on hockey rankings. Competing at the worlds was going to be an up-hill battle for GBR; but the team persevered and earned their first win at this high of level hockey tournament since 1962.
In a comeback overtime victory against France, the win meant two things—history was being made and GBR avoided relegation from the elite pool to secure a spot at the 2020 World Championships.
“We celebrated like we won the tournament,” said Whistle.
“It was the hardest we ever celebrated for not being relegated. Staying up at this level is huge, playing against better players makes you a better player.”
Whistle was born in Canada, played and grew up in the United Kingdom earning his dual citizenship, then played in Canada and in the WHL with the Rockets.
In 2015, Whistle backstopped the Rockets to the Memorial Cup. But while Kelowna was bested in overtime in the tournament final, Whistle said that there was some familiar emotions of playing at that high level again.
“It was pretty similar to when we were at the Memorial. I loved playing for Kelowna, some of the best times of my life was playing for the Rockets,” he said.
Whistle now plays with the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) in the U.K., but his Kelowna roots have seemed to follow him around during his professional career.
Other Rockets were playing in the tournament as well. Germany’s Leon Draisaitl and Canada’s Damon Severson both gave GBR a good battle on the ice, and Whistle spent time catching up with Kelowna’s former goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh.
“Seeing some of the guys on the ice and in the handshakes, it was cool to see them,” Whistle said.
Though Whistle and Great Britain didn’t advance to the playoff rounds of the tournament, there was significant progress made for the country’s hockey programs.
“Staying at the top level, you get more funding and get a lot of focus and attention,” said Whistle. “I think a lot more kids see it and will strive towards becoming hockey players.”
The team’s history-making win was the biggest highlight for Whistle, but the former Rocket goalie found himself happy to be playing with the world’s best and reminiscing about the glory days as a young goalie with the Kelowna team.
“It’s been a lot. Stepping up in net against Team Canada was pretty cool,” he said. “Been getting some texts and messages from friends, teammates and coaches saying they saw me on TV.
“And I’m glad we finished the way we did.”
Whistle was reminded during the tournament that the Rockets will again be a part of the Memorial Cup when they host the tournament in May 2020.
He said he’d be willing to make a cameo appearance and catch some games in his old stomping grounds.
“If I’m able to be in Kelowna, I’m 100 per cent in.”
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