The 7,096 fans that packed the Barys Arena in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan went rapturous over their boys in blue and gold, who captured the country’s first IIHF World Championship Division I, Group A gold medal on home ice in early May.
But the celebrity treatment from the synchronized-chant-generating, percussion-drum-banging crowd was not limited to just the 22 athletes: one of the most popular VIPs in the building during tournament week was Victoria, B.C., native Cory Truscott.
“I got to do a live pre-game interview on the [Kazakhstan] sports channel – now I know how Don Cherry feels – and I got to take selfie shots with the fans who were so happy I was there,” says Truscott, 40. “The fans were telling me, ‘Thank you, Canada, thank you, Victoria for the support of our hockey and country.’ The fans there are absolutely amazing.”
Truscott received the star treatment as the invited guest of the Kazakhstan Ice Hockey Federation. The country had heard of how Truscott went above and beyond in his support of the Kazakhs at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, which were co-hosted in Truscott’s hometown.
Quite a few Canadian hockey fans who attended Kazakhstan game in Victoria did cheer loudly for the underdogs, especially when forward Andrei Buyalsky scored the 1-1 tally in a game against the United States – the team’s first World Juniors goal in over nine years.
Truscott says the big reason why the Kazakh juniors became a hit with Canadians was because that that team played with a never-quit motor.
“They were down 11-1 to Slovakia, and I have never seen a defenceman lay down and block back-to-back shots being down 10 with less than two minutes left in a game. The fans saw that, and we got on them louder and louder and louder.”
Truscott wanted to let that team know how much he admired their competitive spirit, so he ended up meeting the group by their bus after every game to offer sentiments of support and congratulations.
The team was so touched by the gesture that an invitation was extended through social media for Truscott to be flown across the Atlantic to cheer on the country’s national men’s team.
He absolutely wanted to go, but he was not sure if he would get the time off from his work as a truck driver.
The Kazakhstan Ice Hockey Federation came through by penning an official letter asking for permission from Truscott’s boss for the team’s most passionate fan from Canada to be brought overseas.
Permission was granted for Truscott to experience an “opportunity of a lifetime.”
Truscott reconnected with some members of the beloved underdog squad that played in Victoria. In fact, he has been maintaining a friendship with several members of the team through social media over the past several months, particularly goaltender Demid Yeremeyev.
There was a special present for Yeremeyev in Truscott’s suitcase - a bottle of Canadian maple syrup.
Yeremeyev and a couple other players from the team gave a gift to Truscott by treating him to lunch and a tour around Nur-Sultan.
Truscott plans on keeping in touch with these players for years to come, and hopes Kazakhstan will qualify for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., so he can forge a bond with another lovable underdog Kazakhstan squad.