Essex County 12-year-old plays Wayne Gretzky in latest Tim Hortons commercial

Ask 12-year-old Essex County resident Tyler Vriesema about his resemblance to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and he'll tell you he doesn't think he looks very much like the Great One.

Though Vriesema might not see any physical similarities, he beat out more than 50,000 other actors for the part of a young Wayne Gretzky in a new Tim Hortons commercial titled The Autograph.

The commercial itself features three different actors portraying Gretzky throughout his life, and shows Number 99 practicing on a backyard rink, skating through opponents, riding a bus to games and ultimately showing off an autograph from the real Tim Horton. 

Vriesema's journey from Essex County to Tim Hortons fame began when his mother Julie came across a casting call for a "blonde boy around the age of 12, playing rep hocker or higher."

Submitted by Tyler Vriesema

Julie Vriesema submitted her son's application, and received an email the next day calling him in for an audition in Toronto. 

The production team was interested in hiring Tyler for the role, with the caveat that he perform left-handed stickhandling in order to represent Gretzky's own left-handedness.

"[Tyler] said that he couldn't do it, and I said I think he can," said Julie Vriesema. "So then he went to a friend's house and … got him to be able to play as a left-handed hockey player like Gretzky was."

Vriesema's left-handed stickhandling improved to such a degree that he even began impressing his hockey coach Jarrod Dent. 

"I was shocked that it was something he was able to pull off, to be honest," said Dent. 

By the end of his lefty practice, Vriesema was able to accurately stickhandle and even shoot pucks.

Amy Dodge/CBC

"Not too many kids could that, if we asked them all to switch hands," said Dent. "[It was] definitely something that was impressive for us to see him do it like that with such short notice."

And rather than holding on to his earnings from the 90-second spot, Vriesema said he used his $750 paycheque to purchase miniature hockey sticks and balls for children at the Ronald McDonald Houses in Windsor and London.

"I just thought it'd be nice to get them some stuff for Christmas," he said. "Because some kids don't get anything for Christmas, so I thought that would be a nice thing."