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THE MOJ: Kamloops blazing a trail to host the nation for the Memorial Cup

Hosting Canada’s premier junior hockey event culmination of a 15-year journey
Saint John Sea Dogs’ Yan Kuznetsov celebrates with the Memorial Cup after Saint John beat the Hamilton Bulldogs in Saint John, N.B., Wednesday, June 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward

When Tom Gaglardi and his ownership group purchased the Kamloops Blazers in 2007, they had several goals for the Western Hockey League franchise.

Now, 15 years later, one of those goals is poised to become reality.

“It’s been a dream of our ownership group to host the Memorial Cup. It’s been something that we’ve been trying to do since we owned the team from 2007 onwards,” stated Gaglardi, who along with former NHLers Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi, Shane Doan and Darryl Sydor own the WHL team.

The junior hockey showcase is set to begin May 26 with the championship final on June 4. All games are scheduled to be played at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops.

The Blazers are a team rich in history and tradition that includes a span of six WHL Championships and three Memorial Cup titles from 1983 to 1995.

Unfortunately for Blazer fans, the team hasn’t been back to the tournament since their last win in 1995 when they were the hosts.

That streak will now end with the Blazers gaining entry as the host team.

Despite the fulfilment of a major goal for Gaglardi, the focus right now is on what’s happening on the ice.

“We really want to win our league and get there the old-fashioned way,” says Gaglardi, whose team has a two-games-to-none lead against the Vancouver Giants heading into the third game of their first round series Tuesday night in Langley

The Blazers have not only seen a revival this year on the ice - they recorded their first 100-point season since 1999 - but off the ice as well as the club saw a spike in average attendance from 3,779 in 2021-22 to 4,902 this season that allowed them to finish fourth in the WHL in that category.

A major reason for those successes is the excitement surrounding the Memorial Cup.

As much as Gaglardi could take credit for Kamloops hosting the event, he is quick to credit others.

“It just wasn’t the community, it was city hall, it was all the staffers there. There were lots of influential people in the city who wanted to see this happen,” explained Gaglardi.

“As owners and team management, we felt the pressure from the community to deliver the Memorial Cup. I’m not saying that in a bad way. I’m saying it with a smile on my face because it came with a tremendous amount of support. The amount of support we had with sponsors and at the gate has been incredible. We feel very fortunate to be affiliated with the Kamloops Blazers and the community.

The last time Kamloops hosted the Memorial Cup in 1995, it was a hockey tournament.

It’s now a 10-day festival with various events during the course of the tournament ranging from concerts to a golf tournament to a speakers series featuring former Blazers Scott Niedermayer and Jarome Iginla among others.

“It’s going to be something that has never been done before. It’s been super impressive. I really thought it would be a lot of work for the owners – only one of whom (Sydor) lives in Kamloops – but the folks on the ground there have really been amazing as well as the people from the CHL.

“There are committees that are well-staffed and functioning so that we’ve been able to do a small part as owners. The group has done a marvellous job and we haven’t had a worry at all which is nice,” noted Gaglardi, giving praise to the ‘great job’ done by Blazers President Norm Daley and Tournament Chair Yves Lacasse.

When asked on how ticket sales were coming, Gaglardi admitted he didn’t know the actual numbers but was quick to point out that everything was lining up for the tournament to be a success.

“I haven’t stayed close to it on a day-to-day basis other than to know that every revenue category is ahead of plan, so we are in great shape,” he answered.

With 60 teams in the major junior hockey, getting the opportunity to play host to the Memorial Cup isn’t easy.

It took Gaglardi and company over 15 years to achieve that goal, so needless to he can’t wait for the tournament to start.

“It’s a competitive tournament to host. You need to have a lot of things line up for you in terms of timing and the quality of your team. The stars aligned and we’re hosting, so we are super excited,” said Gaglardi.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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