The Canucks caught their fans by surprise, announcing their intention to play a pre-season game at the home of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, Prospera Place. The game will take place on September 29th, and their opponent will be the Arizona Coyotes. While this may not be viewed as the most exciting matchup, there are a handful of storylines that are quite intriguing some familiar faces that could play.
This game will mark the first season the Canucks will commit to having one “home” preseason game away from Rogers Arena and somewhere in British Columbia. Kelowna has never hosted the Canucks for any official event like their training camp or even Kraft Hockeyville so getting the final game before the regular season begins is a big deal.
Prospera Place and its former moniker Skyreach Place have hosted the CHL Top Prospects Game, the 2004 Memorial Cup, World Junior games, the Team Canada Olympic Orientation camp in 2005, stopover practices for the Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, as well as the Anaheim Ducks, and now an NHL game, which just might be nationally televised. While a few big names from the Canucks roster have retired (Henrik and Daniel Sedin) there is still plenty of talent to show off in front of the Okanagan faithful.
It wasn’t too long ago Jim Benning wondered “Why isn’t anyone taking Kole Lind?” and only a season later, Lind may get the chance to reward the fans that cheered him on as a Kelowna Rocket but with an orca on his chest instead of an Ogopogo. Not to be forgotten on the visitor’s side is the former 2013/14 WHL Rookie of the Year Nick Merkley. Merkley spent five seasons with the Rockets and had a stellar season in Tuscon with the Coyotes AHL affiliate, the Roadrunners, putting up 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points, this past season.
Merkley was also named to the AHL All-Star game this past year and has definitely made a name for himself as an up and comer for the Coyotes.
The game is still months away, and there is no guarantee both of those players will suit up for the preseason finale, but they aren’t the only players that will turn heads on that Saturday night. Brock Boeser just finished off his rookie campaign with the Canucks, and if not for a small fracture in his back, he may have given eventual Calder winner Mathew Barzal a run for the title.
Boeser was the spark the Canucks needed to help bring fans back to Rogers Arena last season and that name alone will be worth the price of admission at Prospera which caps out around 6800 and not a bad seat in the house. Add to that, the Canucks 2017 fifth-overall pick Elias Pettersson, which will be many fans’ first true look at what could definitely be a superstar in the making, and then topping that off with the chance the Canucks goalie of the future Thatcher Demko could push the needle even further on the hype meter.
Kelowna has never shied away from hosting big events, and it never disappoints when the spotlight is shining on the jewel of British Columbia. The Rockets are also in the hunt to host the 2020 Memorial Cup with competing bids coming from Kamloops, Victoria, and Lethbridge. Since the last time the Rockets hosted that event the city has grown exponentially, and the downtown landscape will be drastically different this time around with a lakefront that can’t be beat.
Expect not only to see the Canucks deliver more excitement as their NHL game draws nearer but the City of Kelowna and its residents to deliver a fan experience that will make the Canucks remember when looking for future training camp locations or Young Star Tournament stops.
Don’t forget the potential for a blockbuster summer trade or signing that could put the Canucks back into competition for a playoff spot or their seventh-overall pick in next week’s NHL Entry Draft. There won’t be an empty seat in the house.
There is way too much to look forward to as the NHL makes its preseason debut in Kelowna and the Canucks are a perfect choice ring in the festivities.