In the spring of 2004, the Kelowna Rockets hosted the Memorial Cup championship for the first and only time in franchise history.
Bruce Hamilton and company believe it’s high time major junior hockey’s season-ending showcase made a return to the Okanagan.
On Thursday, the Rockets announced the Western Hockey League club will be submitting a bid to host the Canadian Hockey League’s championship tournament in the spring of 2020.
“It’s a great opportunity for our organization and our city,” said Hamilton, the Rockets president and general manager. “We feel our fans deserve the opportunity to host this event again and we know our city will do an even bigger and better job this time out.
“We’re looking forward to rolling the bid out.”
The bid criteria for the Memorial Cup includes a club’s ability to ice a competitive team, while providing adequate facilities and guaranteeing a sufficient return of funds to the Canadian Hockey League.
Hamilton said Prospera Place would likely require some upgrades, including renovations to the dressing rooms which he said are already in the business plan.
As for assembling a Memorial Cup-worthy squad, the GM is confident the Rockets will hit the ice running in 2020.
“I’m not worried about that, the hockey side of it at all,” he said. “We’ll be fine, we’ve been competitive every year we’ve been in business.”
The Rockets won their first and only Memorial Cup as the host team 14 years ago in May, defeating the Gatineau Olympiques in front of the largest and many would remember as the most electric hockey crowd ever (6,557) at Prospera Place.
Outside the arena, the 2004 tournament featured a festival-like atmosphere, with tents, displays and cultural activities to create a fan-friendly environment.
Hamilton said the Rockets will be looking for ways to push the Memorial Cup experience to another level.
“We started something here, it wasn’t just a hockey tournament, it became a festival and that’s how you get more people involved,” he said. “With 6,000 seats there’s a lot of people that don’t get into the building, so there are things you have to do around it to make the event bigger. It’ll be interesting what Tourism Kelowna comes up with, there going to be with us in this, so we’ll be looking forward to new ideas of other things that can happen and other facilities we can use in the downtown area.”
The Rockets, along with the other bid cities, will make their official presentation to the WHL’s board of governors in the fall, with a final decision to be made Oct. 3.
Hamilton expects the Kamloops Blazers will also throw their hat in the ring, while the Victoria Royals are said to be possible candidate to submit a bid.
Local businessman Tom Dyas is serving as chairman of the Rockets’ bid committee and has little doubt the Rockets will warrant serious consideration as the 2020 hosts.
“If there is a community to raise the bar on tournaments of this nature, it would be this community,” Dyas said. “It’s involvement with its love for the sport of hockey, with its community involvement, with its brain capacity, I believe it’s something that will happen almost naturally.”
Defenceman Josh Gorges was the Rockets’ captain for the organization’s lone Memorial Cup win back on that memorable Sunday afternoon in May 2004.
Still his finest hockey moment, the Kelowna native can’t conceive of a better community and organization to serve as hosts for the national tournament.
“I’m almost kind of surprised it hasn’t come back already,” said Gorges. “I think just with the success we had the first time, you saw the community and the organization got behind the event. I mean this is one of the top organizations in junior hockey. And then you throw in the type of city that Kelowna is and how nice it is, and people coming from all over the place, I’m sure to watch the games and just be a part of it.
“I’m excited they have the opportunity to bring the Memorial, to be honest I don’t think there’s a better spot for it.”
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