Young Stars not so young anymore

Young Stars not so young anymore

Last weekend saw the City come alive with the high profile events of Pentastic Jazz Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and the Canucks Young Stars Classic.  I still remember going down to Vancouver in 2009 to sell the Canucks on the concept, city and facilities. There I was with hockey icons Stan Smyl, Laurence Gilman and Mike Gillis trying to showcase our community spirit, hockey history and capacity to organize and execute the event. There are several logistical and operational challenges in bringing the NHL brand into our Okanagan market. This is a pro camp so the players are provided with the same amenities as the veterans.

The concept behind the Classic was to allow the teams an opportunity to evaluate their prospects in a real game environment, with bolstering fans, against their peers from the other teams. The teams have an opportunity to meet as a coaching and scouting group retreat to ensure everyone is on the same page and to kick start the hockey season. The side benefit is that the fans get a glimpse into the NHL experience. 

We have had Number 1 draft picks play in the Young Stars in the past, but this year was special with Connor McDavid attending. Each team had 3 or 4 marquee players to watch, so while the attention was on those players, the other 25 players pushed themselves to elevate their game so they too would garner some attention from the NHL scouts and team management. The hockey was intense, fast, hard hitting and very entertaining. Not only did we see upcoming stars, but hockey heroes of the past were also in our town as scouts, coaches, or management.

This year had record attendance numbers and interestingly 41% of the tickets sales came from outside the Okanagan region (including 15% from Alberta).  This demonstrates the economic impact and draw the event garners. We always speak about the economic impact, bums in seats or heads in beds, but we seldom focus on the exposure an event brings. The Young Stars had national media following the games, players, and often reported in and about the town. The games were live-streamed online to 40,000 to 90,000 viewers and there was live TV cut-ins on the sport networks. There was 4 radio broadcasts during the game along with a morning show from the arena. Print media was also strongly present.

We have some fantastic hockey in the Okanagan and I was happy to see former Penticton Vees Joey Laleggia perform extremely well for Edmonton, plus Brendan O’Donnell played for Winnipeg. Kelowna Rocket fans would have been proud to see Jackson Whistle and Leon Draisaitl dazzle. 

Five years is a significant milestone and there is a small group of volunteers and staff we should thank for creating an amazing hockey experience. To have the Flames, Oilers, Jets and Canucks set up shop in our town for 5 days is pretty special. The SOEC was built exactly for events like this, and many NHL brass and media commented on how spectacular the building was. We were quite fortuitous to have casino funding, provincial grants and a past council with a vision to create the lasting legacy and economic driver. We are the envy of many communities, and that is something to be proud of.

Photo credit: Marissa Baecker, Shoot the Breeze Photos