Memorial Cup

From left, Tom Dyas, Bruce Hamilton and Gavin Hamilton pose with the Memorial Cup last week in Halifax. Kelowna will play host to the Canadian Hockey League’s championship tournament in 2020.

Exactly one year from today, someone will be hoisting the Memorial Cup at centre ice inside Prospera Place.

While that might feel like an excruciatingly long time for hockey fans, for Tom Dyas and the rest of the organizing committee, it’s right around the corner.

“Now the hard work begins,” Dyas said on Thursday.

Kelowna earned the right to host the Canadian Hockey League’s championship tournament earlier this year, giving the WHL’s Rockets an automatic berth and a rallying point for local fans. Dyas and the host committee are now concentrating on ticket sales, sponsorship and establishing a volunteer base.

The hope is to attract between 600 and 650 volunteers, Dyas said, and then break them into groups based on interest and ability.

Everything from security to transportation, entertainment and beyond needs to be regimented and designed to provide the best experience for fans, players and TV viewers.

The whole tournament is televised nationally on Sportsnet. It won’t be held over the Victoria Day weekend as in years past, but will start a few days after the long weekend next year.

“We’ve got a lot of planning to do,” said Jillian Wegner, the Cup committee’s event manager.

They’re not going in blind, though. Kelowna hosted the Memorial Cup in 2004, not so long ago that everyone has forgotten what’s involved.

But, at the same time, the event has grown in scope.

That’s why Dyas, Wegner, representatives from the Rockets, Tourism Kelowna and the City of Kelowna were in Halifax last week attending the 2019 Memorial Cup tournament.

Dyas said it was instrumental in shaping how Kelowna’s organizers approach the next 12 months.

“The feeling within the arena was amazing. It was electric,” Dyas said. “It was where everyone wanted to be.”

Maritime hospitality was on full display, and Dyas said the event was clearly not only for ticket holders, with fan zones, a Hall of Fame display and pre- and post-game events all occupying downtown businesses.

About the only criticism anyone had was difficult to control. Because the area around Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre was a bit older, fan zones were about two blocks from the arena.

Plus, it rained.

“It just wasn’t conducive to being outside,” said Rockets owner Bruce Hamilton.

There were also reports of occupancy inside the fan zones being tightly controlled, leaving it with a “less than full” feeling.

Kelowna weather in May should be more predictable than springtime in the Maritimes, and our Pacific time zone lends itself to more favourable starts.

By the time most games end — about 8 p.m. locally — the weather should still be great and there will be plenty of time for post-game revelry.

Seeing all that — good and bad — was important to Kelowna’s contingent.

Dyas said organizers in Halifax welcomed them with open arms, allowing them to ask questions and attend meetings.

They’ve returned home with plenty of raw material.

“We’ve got some pretty good ideas,” he said.

Stuart Park is the likely location for the fan zones, the Laurel Building should host the Hall of Fame display, and Kelowna wants to create a “mobile” Memorial Cup experience for people across the Central Okanagan.

“We’ll be bringing it to their neighbourhood,” Dyas said.

He also predicts “substantial concert events.”

In all, the organizers have returned from Halifax energized for the year ahead.

Heck, Wegner was married days before the tournament in Halifax began and spent her honeymoon in the Nova Scotia city.

She suggested her husband was happy to “sacrifice” for the health of the new union.

She was, too.

“I was happy to bring him along,” she said with a laugh.

That means she will be celebrating their one-year anniversary just as Kelowna’s tournament begins.

“We’ll be laughing one year (today),” she said.

Kelowna Rockets season-ticket holders have first chance at Memorial Cup tickets. Memorial Cup tickets are not on sale to the general public yet, and may not be sold to the public if season-ticket holders scoop them all up. Dyas said demand is so high already, hockey fans from across Canada are asking about buying season tickets here just so they can access Memorial Cup tickets.

To learn more, visit kelownarockets.com.