STRATHCLAIR — Morgan Geekie’s early birthday party is certainly one the community of Strathclair isn’t about to forget.
The Charlotte Checkers forward, who turns 21 today, brought the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup to his hometown on Friday afternoon to cap a magical first season in professional hockey.
"I don’t know if it’s ever been to a town as small as this one before," Geekie said. "It’s pretty cool. It’s a small community and everyone is family here so it’s definitely cool to see everyone that kind of followed me along. I can’t thank those people enough for all they’ve done on the way here."
Strathclair, with a population of 700 residents that includes those on nearby farms, is located near Shoal Lake, 90 kilometres northwest of Brandon.
After the two-hour public event held at the curling rink, the Geekies were planning some low-key family time for the rest of the day. The Calder Cup travels to Winnipeg today, with former Brandon Wheat Kings captain Stelio Mattheos getting his chance to spend time with the trophy.
The pair celebrated with their Checkers teammates on June 8 as they beat Zach Whitecloud of Sioux Valley, Brandon-born Keegan Kolesar and the Chicago Wolves 5-3 at Allstate Arena to win the best-of-seven American Hockey League final 4-1. Dauphin’s Myles Fee was one of Charlotte’s assistant coaches.
Geekie said it took time for him to wrap his head around the victory, something helped by Friday’s festivities.
"We’ve had some time to process everything," he said. "It’s good to see all these people come out here today, and it kind of sinks in and you kind of realize how big everything is. It’s really cool to be a part of and I’m really glad that I can share it with all these people."
It was also a chance for Morgan and his two brothers to be together for the first time since Christmas.
Noah, 19, plays baseball at Barton Community College, which is located in Great Bend, Kansas. When his school year ended, he joined the Okotoks Dawgs of the Western Major Baseball League.
After beating the host Medicine Hat Mavericks 9-8 in 17 innings in a game that stretched into Friday morning, the Dawgs were on the road at 2 a.m., arriving in Swift Current around 4:30. He got to sleep around 5, his aunt picked him up at 7:30 and they arrived around 2 p.m.
He wasn’t about to miss his brother’s big day.
"It’s a pretty special occasion for my brother, winning the Calder Cup in his first professional year of hockey," Noah said. "Bringing it here today is pretty awesome. It’s nice to see everybody turn out, and all the family and friends and people who have helped him along the way and have supported him from towns across Manitoba and even across the country. It’s awesome to see everybody here."
Conor, 15, was the second overall pick in the Western Hockey League draft in May, heading to the Winnipeg Ice. He also recently won a bantam A provincial baseball title, has already played with the senior AA Oak River Dodgers and will represent Manitoba at a national 15-and-under baseball event later this summer.
Morgan’s mother Tobi did a lot of the planning for the public event, which came together quickly at the last minute. She was thrilled to see her three sons together.
"That makes it extra special. Now I’ll have that Christmas card picture ready for December," she chuckled. "They do everything together. The three boys are each other’s best friends and to be able to share that without one of them being here maybe wouldn’t have been the same. Now everything’s perfect."
A good crowd showed up during the event, taking pictures with Morgan and the Calder Cup, enjoying a hotdog and a drink and visiting with friends.
Carrie Ramsey, who is from Strathclair but now lives in nearby Hamiota, is friends with Morgan’s parents Craig and Tobi, and has known the boys since they were little.
"It’s kind of unreal to have somebody bring something back to the community, back where he started from," she said. "It’s something we knew he loved doing.
"They’re watched and admired by many."
Jon Hawtin drove in from Miniota to attend. He served as the conditioning and strength coach with the Yellowhead Chiefs as Morgan came through the bantam and midget programs.
"He stood out because of all of the kids at that time, he was the hardest working one there," Hawtin said. "He was pretty dedicated to strength and conditioning, which was a little different because a lot of kids at that age aren’t that dedicated to it. He actually contacted me and wanted to do the training in the summers as well. It was pretty impressive."
It’s certainly paid off.
In his second year of eligibility, he was selected in the third round of the 2017 National Hockey League draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. He finished up a fine three-year WHL career with the Tri-City Americans after the 2017-18 season, and in 73 regular season AHL games this year, Geekie scored 19 goals and added 27 assists. In 19 playoff games, he piled up 18 points, including 10 goals on the team’s top line with Andrew Poturalski and Aleksi Saarela.
He returned home to Strathclair soon after winning his first championship, and will head to Winnipeg next month to begin skating. He knows he has to shift from celebrating past accomplishments to working on new ones if he hopes to crack the Hurricanes’ roster next season.
"It takes a little bit to adjust to see what next year is going to hold but definitely once I started training again and once I start skating again here right away, it’s definitely going to set in that steps need to be taken to get to that next level," he said. "That’s the next goal for me, to try and get up to that next level and stay there."
But on Friday, it was a time for celebration.
Noah Geekie said his brother’s professional victory and the chance to bring the Calder Cup home might carry forward in the community.
"It gives the younger generation some motivation and confidence that you can come from anywhere, whether it’s a big city or a small town like Strathclair, and put the work in and get success out of it," he said. "If you give 110 per cent at whatever you’re doing, you’ll be successful. It’s an unreal experience to have this accomplishment here in Strathclair."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson