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Moorhead's Joe Gramer reflects on experience at Hlinka Gretzky Cup

The Spuds senior captain was one of five Minnesotans to compete for Team USA at the annual Under-18 tournament, which was held in Red Deer, Alberta this year

Moorhead vs Elk River-Zimmerman_1164.jpg
Moorhead's Joe Gramer (23) takes the puck past Elk River/Zimmerman's Marcus Fritel (26) during the third period Wednesday, March 2, 2022, at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
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MOORHEAD — Joe Gramer will have a lot going for him this fall.

Not only will he begin a second USHL stint with the Des Moines Buccaneers when training camp commences in September, but he was also named a captain for the Moorhead High School boys varsity hockey team for the upcoming prep season.

Before he was able to focus on those two things, however, the Spuds senior spent a good chunk of his summer with Team USA at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, an annual Under-18 tournament hosted by Hockey Canada, the Czech Ice Hockey Association and the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation which is rotated between the three nations each year.

The 31st edition of the tournament was held July 31-Aug. 6 in Red Deer, Alberta.

Gramer was one of five Minnesotans selected from a pool of 150 players to represent the United States at the tournament after competing at the week-long Team USA camp in Amherst, N.Y., in June. Twenty-four Americans made up the final roster.

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Gramer, a defenseman, appeared in all four preliminary round games for Team USA in the eight-team tournament, which consisted of the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Slovakia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Finland and Germany. He finished the tourney with one goal and one assist.

"It was kind of a goal of mine for the last year, really," Gramer said. "Building up for national camp and then getting ready for that to have a chance at the roster. I kind of knew I had a shot going into it, but it felt good to execute and make the team."

Gramer and his team spent about a week together before the tournament commenced.

"It was all just really cool," he said. "We went up there and met as a team, and we were out there for almost a week before we started playing games. We were practicing and learning the new systems and all the new teammates and stuff. We got out there, it was a great group of guys, we spent some time together and did some activities and stuff.

"And then the games started and everything just went really quick. So before you knew it, it was over and we were on the way home."

Gramer notched a goal in an 8-1 opening-round win over Germany before adding an assist in the fifth-place game which the U.S. won 4-2 over Slovakia.

Despite appearing in seven USHL games with Des Moines last season — the only Tier I junior league in the U.S. sanctioned by USA Hockey — Gramer said the intensity level at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup was like none he's been a part of before.

"It was definitely intense," he said. "I played in the USHL last year which are older guys, but with this one, you could obviously tell some guys wanted it more playing for their countries and playing for a gold medal. It was probably the most intense hockey I've ever played, but it was a really good experience in that regard, too, to get that experience and hopefully it'll help me out in the future."

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Team USA has garnered gold at the tournament once, beating Russia in 2003. Canada has won the tournament 23 times, topping Sweden in this year's gold medal game.

Asked who he enjoyed playing with the most, Gramer said it was great to connect with his fellow Minnesota natives, which included Warroad's Hampton Slukynsky, Plymouth's Will Ingemann, Hermantown's Ty Hanson and Rosemount's Will Whitelaw.

"It was good to get back with them," Gramer said. "Ty Hanson, I played with him a lot growing up so he was fun to hang out with all week. Hampton Slukynsky — Warroad goalie — he was my roommate all week too. So it was good to see those guys and catch up with them a bit.

"But really, everyone on the team were just all so close and liked spending time together and playing with each other."

Fargo North-South girls hockey head coach Parker Metz was also on the Team USA staff as a team leader.

"He kind of organized all of our activities," Gramer said. "I kind of talked to him here and there, but nothing crazy. We'd talk every once in awhile and as a team we spent a lot of time with Parker. He did a great job for us."

Spuds Joe Gramer Copy3.jpg
Moorhead's Joe Gramer (23) tries to block Elk River/Zimmerman's Marcus Fritel (26) from making a pass during the third period Wednesday, March 2, 2022, at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Gramer is committed to play Division I college hockey at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Asked what he'll take away from his time in Red Deer, Gramer said he'll never forget competing with players from around the world.

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"I'll take away for sure playing against other countries and stuff and how kind of different they play," he said. "You've just kind of got to be good at all of the little things in the game to have success, especially when you're playing against the top (players) in the world. But I wouldn't say there's one specific thing I took out of it, just lots of really cool little things that caught on along the way."

Ryan Spitza joined The Forum in December 2021 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Marquette, Mich., a city of 20,000 on the southern shore of Lake Superior. He majored in multimedia journalism and minored in public relations at Northern Michigan University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in May 2019. While attending college, Spitza gained real-world experience covering high school and college athletics for both The Mining Journal and The North Wind.

Spitza can be reached at 701-451-5613 or rspitza@forumcomm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryspitza.
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