Zach Dean was still wrapping his head around his shiny gold medal on Thursday as he prepared to suit up for his first game since winning the world junior hockey championships.
The 20-year-old was just the ninth player from Newfoundland and Labrador to wear the red and white since the tournament began in 1977, and topped off his experience with a gold medal in a thrilling overtime win over the Czech Republic on Jan. 5.
Now back in Gatineau, where he plays in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Dean has his sights set on another major milestone.
"Hopefully we can get a championship here," he said. "We've got a good team and made some trades just before the deadline."
The winner of the QMJHL's championship goes on to play for the Memorial Cup — the chance to be crowned the best junior team in all of Canada.
It's a trophy that Dean's grandfather, Bob Dean, won in 1962 with the Hamilton Red Wings. He was the first person from Newfoundland and Labrador to win a Memorial Cup.
The Gatineau Olympiques currently sit in sixth place among the league's 18 teams. Dean is one of the team's leading scorers, with 35 points in 27 games. The team made a pair of high-profile acquisitions in recent weeks, adding high-scoring forwards Riley Kidney and Alexis Gendron as the team prepares for a championship run.
No time to celebrate
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Dean, with the Team Canada camp running straight into the tournament, and then a quick turnaround after their gold medal win.
"It was a really good experience," Dean said. "Just to be able to play in the tournament, it was something super special. It was overall really cool, especially to be in Halifax, too, in the Maritimes. The fans were unbelievable."
He said there was little time to cherish the victory. The team left the arena late that night, and went to a restaurant with their families before heading to the airport at 4 a.m.
He was the only Newfoundlander on the roster, but the team had another influence from the Rock behind their win. Their goal song — which rang out a total of 45 times throughout the tournament — was Heave Away by the Fables.
"It was a little bit of a surprise when we scored our first goal of the tournament and that came on," Dean chuckled. "It fit really well and everyone on our team loved the song, so it was really good."
Dean — who was drafted by the National Hockey League's Vegas Golden Knights in 2020 — hopes to move on from junior hockey next season and jump into the big leagues.
If he does so, he'll be join fellow Newfoundlanders Dawson Mercer and Alex Newhook in the NHL. Dean said he's thrilled to be in the same conversation as those players when it comes to paving the way for other kids from the province.
"I'm happy to be a role model for all the young hockey players coming up, especially in Newfoundland," he said.