The turnstiles were busy at the South Okanagan Events Centre as fans lined up to watch the Canucks Young Stars Classic Sept. 12-15.
“The attendance to all the games have been great, rightly so,” said Trevor Linden, president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks. “It’s been good hockey and there are some really good young players.”
The highest attended game, according to www.pointstreak.com, was between the Canucks and Edmonton Oilers which attracted a crowd of 4,408. The Canucks and Winnipeg Jets attracted 3,508 fans, while the Canucks and Calgary Flames and Flames and Oilers drew nearly 3,100 fans. The two early games attracted 1,500 and 1,951 fans. According to SOEC staff there were 16,500 tickets sold.
Event chair Andrew Jakubeit said attendance is higher than last year as the tournament showcased 12 first-round draft picks from the Canucks, Flames, Oilers and Jets.
“It’s very exciting to see the energy in the community,” said Jakubeit. “It’s something that we as a community can be proud of to have.”
Among the factors helping attendance was the event not being held the same weekend as the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival and the jazz festival. Jakubeit added that marketing efforts were better and people have a better understanding of the calibre of hockey.
“There are some big names that played here that are now staples in the NHL,” said Jakubeit mentioning the Oilers’ Taylor Hall, Canucks goalie Eddie Lack and Anaheim Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler. “You get to see the next up-and-coming star.”
The event was covered by 80 members of the media with games web-streamed on the respective team’s websites.
Flames GM Brad Treliving said his first time at the tournament was great, and he praised the Canucks and organizers for the work they did.
“It’s a great format,” said Treliving of being able to assess the players. “I think it’s great for the fans to come out and see a really high level of hockey.”
Treliving was also impressed with the crowds, though the former Penticton Knight admitted to some bias because of his Penticton roots.
“It’s not only one of the most picturesque parts of the world, there are great people here, great fans,” he said. “A really knowledgable fan base. It’s not surprising they have supported it as they have. It’s a great way to kick off the season.”
Linden said the SOEC is a great venue for the players to play, adding it provides a real pro atmosphere and for them to watch players in that environment.
He said the future of the event is solid in Penticton.
“It’s great for the western Canadian teams,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better place to come for this tournament. Response from market has been great.”
Linden was asked about the potential for a fifth team and said it needs to be the right fit.
“We had some interesting conversations last night (Sunday) about a team that would potentially join us which I think everyone would be very thrilled about,” he said.
Asked if it was the Montreal Canadiens, Linden, a former Hab, said, “could be.”
“I love Montreal,” said Linden. “Great city, tremendous organization.”
The Canucks are now preparing for their main training camp in Whistler starting Thursday. The team moves the training camp around the province to give fans from other communities exposure to the them. Penticton hosted the Canucks training camp in 2010, the first year it hosted the tournament.