Penticton’s close-knit hockey community is abuzz with news NHL’s Young Stars Classic is coming back to the Peach city this September.
The popular pre-season NHL prospects tournament went on hiatus in 2019 due to the lack of NHL club participation.
The rookie showcase began in 2010 with five teams and ran that way until 2013. From 2014-17, it was a four-team event featuring Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
In 2018, the Oilers and Flames left, with the Jets leaving in 2019, resulting in the tournament’s cancellation that year.
But the four-team, round-robin tournament is back in 2020 for its ninth year.
The tournament will feature prospects from the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s really exciting to see the future of the NHL in Penticton,” said Okanagan midget varsity player Brett MacLean. “It’s really nice for young people to come learn and watch what NHL hockey is really like in person.”
The high-profile event is inspiring for young athletes.
” I think every hockey player wants to get there one day,” said Wilson Webster, also on the Okanagan midget varsity roster.
“I’m super excited about it, can’t wait to see them play.”
Jonathan Wall, senior director of hockey operations with the Vancouver Canucks, said it was a collective effort to revive the Young Stars Classic.
“We all kind of got together this summer, decided it was something we wanted to bring back. They jumped on board pretty quick and we are excited that it’s coming back,” he said.
WATCH: Vancouver Canucks senior director of hockey operations, Jonathan Wall, discusses the revival of the Young Stars Classic
“I think they like the fact that there are four teams here, so they get more games, there is more exposure for the players and for the organizations, and they love coming here,” Wall said.
The prospects tournament is hosted at the South Okanagan Events Centre, home to the BC Hockey Hall of Fame and the Penticton Vees junior hockey club.
“For our young players, it’s an opportunity for them to see what maybe the next step would be in their career and see some of the players that have gone through junior, through college, now are part of an NHL organization,” said Fred Harbinson, head coach and general manager of the Penticton Vees.
“For us coaching too, we get to meet some of the coaches from the other teams, get to watch some of their practices and pick up some things that they’re doing,” he said.
Harbinson said a Vees exhibition game during the tournament may be in the works.
“We played an exhibition game during the actual weekend and I think it’s something we might look at again,” he said.
“There’s a ton of NHL scouts in the building, general managers, all kinds of personnel, any time we’ve had this tournament in the past, a lot of them are watching our practices during the day, in this case maybe an exhibition game, you never can get enough exposure for your players and next year is a big year for us, hosting the national championship.”
The Okanagan Hockey Group, which shares the facility, is welcoming the event back.
“We think it is a tremendous event,” said Blair Noel, OHA’s vice-president. “It showcases the city, showcases the facility, Penticton has such a rich hockey history dating back some 65-plus years. Great event for the fans and the community on a whole.
“This is a terrific opportunity for them to witness the great event and see the skill level of these players.”
Event organizers are expecting the Young Stars Classic to be a hot ticket in town.
“It’s certainly grown over the years but I think we’ve ranged in between 18,000 all the way up to about 23,000,” said Carla Seddon, director of marketing with the SOEC.
“We certainly missed it. I know the community missed it. It’s one of those things, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone and certainly last year there was a big hole, so we are very excited to welcome it back to Penticton,” Seddon said.
“The building is generally full, the group does a great job putting on the games, it feels like you’re at big league game, and I think all that contributes to the players playing better and putting on a better show for everybody,” Wall added.
The tournament also brings a boost to the local economy.
“The economic value that the City of Penticton sees is somewhere around $3 million,” said John Vassilaki, the mayor of Penticton.
“Our commercial area downtown and many others will benefit from this.”
The event will be held from Sept. 11-15.
The Canucks say ticket information will be released at a later date, but below is the 2020 Young Stars Classic schedule.
- Friday, Sept. 11: Vancouver vs Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 12: Calgary vs Winnipeg, 4 p.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 12: Vancouver vs Edmonton, 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday, Sept. 13: Edmonton vs Calgary, 4 p.m.
- Tuesday, Sept. 15: Edmonton vs Winnipeg, 4 p.m.
- Tuesday, Sept. 15: Vancouver vs Calgary, 7:30 p.m.