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He showed up to the rink bigger, stronger, and faster in September.

Following his first year with the Pilot Mound Academy U15 Prep team during the 2022-23 season, Forrest Karlson knew what he had to do to take his game to the next level. He spent hours in the gym and skated for hours whenever he could find ice. He believed he had more in him and did he ever.

From Dauphin, the 15-year-old star took his game to the next level this year as he played his second year with the U15 Prep team from Pilot Mound. Forrest posted 15 points last year in 24 games. This year, Forrest found the back of the net 18 times in 27 games and had 24 assists. His point total was increased by 27 points from the following season.

What was even more impressive from Forrest's totals is that Pilot Mound struggled this year with just five wins in the regular season. It wasn't always easy for Karlson who calls himself the ultimate competitor. He loves to win and he loves to compete. It takes a special player to fight through when things aren't going as planned and that's exactly what Forrest did.

"I gained quite a bit of confidence this year," said Karlson. "I know we had a tough season, but I had some great teammates that helped me a ton. I was pretty pleased with how I played, things went pretty well. I just continued to stick to the process and keep my head up."

After going 5-20-2, the team was relegated to the consolation championships that were played in Penticton from March 10 to 13. Forrest opened up that event with a four-point game as he scored three times in a 5-3 win against Delta Hockey Academy Black. He then scored one goal and had one assist in a 7-3 win against Prairie Hockey Academy and while he was held off the scoresheet in his team's final game of the season, Karlson was buzzing all over in a 5-3 win against Pacific Coast Academy.

Across just three playoff games, the Dauphin star posted four goals and two assists.

"Yeah, I was pretty proud about those six points," said Karlson. "We had some tough competition and we pushed through. I was happy that we were able to get some wins and I'm glad that I could add up six points."

Most recently, Forrest was in Brandon competing in Hockey Manitoba's Top 40 camp, one that features the top 40 age-eligible players and goalies. Karlson is without a doubt one of the most talented U15 players in the province and he enjoyed the opportunity to go up against the best.

"There was some really good competition, like 30 of the 40 guys got drafted," offered Karlson. "It was really high paced and some top end coaching, I really enjoyed it."

While Forrest was in Brandon, the Western Hockey League (WHL) was hosting its Prospects Draft. Landon Dupont, who recently was granted exceptional status, was drafted by the Everett Silvertips. Then with the 98th overall pick, Forrest was drafted by the Red Deer Rebels. He was one of two Parkland athletes drafted after the Brandon Wheat Kings took Easten Turko of McCreary.

For as long as he can remember, Forrest has wanted to play in the WHL. His major goal heading into this year was to get drafted so it was a dream come true.

"It feels awesome, I look up to so many players in that league, it's such a great league," said Karlson. "It's an honour to be drafted, I can't wait to get things started."

Forrest also believes the work is just beginning. He knows that while he was drafted, he won't just be able to show up in Red Deer and make the team. He knows a big summer is ahead and while it will include long gym sessions and plenty of other off-ice training paired with his on-ice training, Karlson has been waiting for this moment and he is not about to let it go to waste.

"I need to grow into a bigger, faster, and better player," said Karlson. "The WHL is elite, those are future NHL stars. I'm ready to get to work."

Every step of the way and stride in Forrest's journey, he has had his family and friends right by his side. A big family man himself, Karlson is grateful for all of the support he has received and no doubt will continue to receive.

"My friends and family are always here to support me, it truly means the world to me," ended Karlson. "I also want to thank my mom and dad, they helped me go to that academy in Pilot Mound and it helped me out a lot."