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‘A sad day’: Cancelled 2020 Memorial Cup in Kelowna, B.C., would have started this week

Kelowna Rockets captain Nolan Foote in action during the WHL’s 2019-2020 season. The annual tournament featuring North America’s best junior hockey teams was cancelled on March 23rd because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kelowna Rockets captain Nolan Foote in action during the WHL’s 2019-2020 season. The annual tournament featuring North America’s best junior hockey teams was cancelled on March 23rd because of the coronavirus pandemic. Marissa Baecker / Kelowna Rockets

The City of Kelowna should be awash in hockey right now. Instead, Prospera Place sits empty.

Friday will mark what should have been Day 1 of the 2020 Memorial Cup, with the tournament host Kelowna Rockets playing the champions of the Ontario Hockey League.

The annual tournament, however, was cancelled on March 23rd because of the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: 2020 Memorial Cup, CHL playoffs cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic

“Emotionally, a sad day, along with everything else that’s been happening over the last little while,” Memorial Cup committee chairperson Tom Dyas said Thursday when asked of what should have been.

“We would like to be inside that arena and going through the parade process [Thursday] and having our first game [Friday] evening.”
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Unofficially, the 2020 Memorial Cup would have began Thursday with a parade, with games starting Friday and the tournament ending on Sunday, May 31, with the championship game.

READ MORE: David Branch on cancelling the Memorial Cup: ‘We had to respond in the right way’

“[Thursday] would have been the parade and the banquet,” said Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton, whose team would have been participating in its sixth tournament — all since 2003.
“Because we’ve been to so many of these things, I know how excited our team would be, getting ready to play [Friday] night in front of our fans. And I know how excited the city would be. It’s kind of hockey weather right now, too, which is nice.

“But, really, it’s sad. There’s a lot of tough things going on in the world right now, but this thing really would have been a boost for our city. And for us, an organization, it was something special to win the ability to host it … you don’t know when you’ll get it again, or if you will.”

Kelowna Rockets fans excited about hosting Memorial Cup in 2020
Kelowna Rockets fans excited about hosting Memorial Cup in 2020

Dyas said while cancelling the tournament was a blow, it was the right move to make.

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“As time has marched on, we know that the CHL made the right decision in what it had to do,” said Dyas.

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“But there’s been a lot of days of sadness, knowing this event and many other events in our community have been put on pause.”

Hockey-wise, the tournament would have been tough for the Rockets.

When the regular season was shut down, Kelowna (29-28-3-3) was sitting seventh out of 10 in Western Conference standings with just 64 points. In the first round of playoffs, the Rockets would have meet the B.C. Divison-leading Kamloops Blazers (41-18-3-1, 86 points).

The Portland Winterhawks (45-11-3-4), owners of the league’s best record at that point, were in first with 97 points, though the Everett Silvertips (46-13-3-1) were second with 96.

In the Eastern Conference, the Edmonton Oil Kings (42-12-6-4) were tops with 94 points.

The Memorial Cup and its Kingston history
The Memorial Cup and its Kingston history

While it was massively unlikely that Kelowna would have won the league title, the Rockets were assured a spot in the tournament as hosts. And, from time to time, host teams do surprisingly well.

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“I think we would have been a big surprise,” said Hamilton, whose team was ravaged by injuries. “We would be healthy now.”

Hamilton continued, saying, “we haven’t had everybody all year,” and “we would have been all right. We were so looking forward to playing Kamloops in the first round because we thought we would match up well against them.

“They dominated us through the year, but, like I said, we were short [staffed] and I just think this team, there was some destiny in it and we had some guys come in and do real good things in a short period of time.”
Edmonton police chief a Memorial Cup winner with Prince Albert Raiders
Edmonton police chief a Memorial Cup winner with Prince Albert Raiders

That’s water under the bridge now, and now the focus is on whether Kelowna will once again host the tournament.

The OHL will host the 2021 tournament, with the 2022 tournament taking place in the QMJHL. That leaves 2023, with the Memorial Cup returning to the WHL.

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“[For] 2023, the CHL will decide on that, and the Western Hockey League, on whether they decide that it’s something we’d be able to have,” said Hamilton.

“I like 2023 because we’ll have a real good team again by then.”

For more about the Memorial Cup, including past results, click here.