The cancellation of the 2020 Memorial Cup was an inevitability given the current state of affairs in the world, but now that it's official, one unfortunate byproduct is that Kelowna will miss its turn to host the CHL's three-league championship.
The bucolic B.C. town is home to the Rockets, a franchise that has enjoyed great success over the years under the stewardship of owner/GM Bruce Hamilton. The team has been to the Memorial Cup four times since moving from Tacoma, Wash., in 1995 and won as hosts back in 2004. During that time, Hamilton has become one of the most influential voices in the CHL and currently serves as chairman of the WHL's board of governors. In that respect, it's surprising that Kelowna will just straight-up lose its hosting rights.
As per a CHL press release, the 2021 Memorial Cup will be hosted by the OHL and based on the bids that were put in earlier this year, that host will be either Sault Ste. Marie or Oshawa. Given how early in the process we are, it seems like there could be an exception made in which Kelowna hosted in 2021 and the OHL got the 2022 tournament. The Memorial Cup gets rotated between the WHL, OHL and QMJHL, but there was a recent exception that proves the rotation is not iron-clad.
Back in 2018, the QMJHL should have technically been the host league for the Memorial Cup, but it was also the 100th edition of the end-of-year classic, so a little more pomp and circumstance was put into the festivities. Because of this, the CHL announced that franchises from all three leagues would be allowed to bid on hosting duties and in the end, three teams went for it: the WHL's Regina Pats and the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs and Oshawa Generals. Regina ended up as the host and, ironically, a small-market team from the 'Q' took home the trophy when the Acadie-Bathurst Titan blanked the host Pats 3-0 in the final.
Would there be any issues in simply shifting this year's hosting rights a year? There would be some, to be sure. Teams always load up for Memorial Cup runs and though WHL squads tend to pride themselves on not splurging too much (favoring internal development), the Rockets did make a series of "now" trades to bolster their lineup. Veterans Matthew Wedman (FLA), Dillon Hamaliuk (SJ) and Jake Lee (undrafted) all came over from the Seattle Thunderbirds for example, playing substantial roles for Kelowna this season.
But the city itself deserves some sympathy here, too. The Memorial Cup is a big event in the majority of CHL towns and given how popular the Rockets are, it goes without saying that crowds would have been stellar for the tournament, had a global pandemic not hit. While the CHL has teams in major markets such as Seattle, Portland, Edmonton, Quebec City, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver (not to mention suburbs of Montreal and Toronto), the majority of teams are in junior hockey-mad locales around Canada and parts of the U.S.
These are the towns that live and breathe for their teams and the communities are very tightly connected to hockey. And while the economy is going to be on every city's mind for the foreseeable future, it probably would have been nice for the hotels and restaurants of Kelowna to know they could have recouped some lost business in a calendar year.
Finally, I'll give a shout-out to all the volunteers who would have made the tournament hum. In my experience, the folks who donate their time during the Memorial Cup are integral and they're always incredibly helpful (even when I tell them I'm from Toronto!). I know the OHL will do a great job in 2021, no matter which team hosts, but it is a shame that Kelowna lost its turn.
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