More than 27,000 hockey fans pushed their way through the turnstiles of the South Okanagan Events Centre during the Canucks Young Stars Classic, Sept.11-14.
The majority came to see Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid, while others were eager to see all the prospects.
All of the Oilers’ games were sold out and the best attended game was between Vancouver and Edmonton, which packed the SOEC with 5,500 fans.
Andrew Jakubeit, event chair for the Canucks Young Stars Classic, said he was “really happy” with how things turned out.
“The building has been full. The city has been full. The hockey has been fast and intense. It’s been a real crowd pleaser and obviously a lot of people came here to see Connor McDavid,” he said.
When asked about the Oilers’ decision to play McDavid in only one game, which upset several fans, Jakubeit said there have been other “marquee players from the other teams that have shown that they deserve a shot in the NHL.”
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli told the media, including NHL.com correspondent Aaron Vickers, the decision on McDavid was made early. He said the decision would give them a chance to see other players.
“He wasn’t very happy, but I said ‘hey, you’re going to play a lot of hockey for us,” said Chiarelli.
“You’re a hockey player. You want to play whenever you get a chance,” McDavid told the media. “At the end of the day it’s not my decision. It’s their choice. That’s that.”
Jakubeit, also Penticton’s mayor, added that the purpose of the Classic is for the teams to assess how their prospects perform against the others.
“When they have a superstar show up, he may not play every game. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “I think if you’re a hockey fan, this has been an awesome five days.”
Jakubeit added with all the media attention, the city gained a lot of exposure.
“It’s been five years now. I think it’s quite exciting that it’s grown to the event that it is,” he said. “A must-attend for any hockey fan and we look forward to future years.”
Trevor Linden, president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks, said it was a great event.
“Penticton does a great job, it’s a great venue,” said Linden. “Where else would you want to be on a fall weekend? I think from our standpoint, it’s been really encouraging just to see our prospects pool. We’re going to continue to build on that for next year.”
Linden agreed that the crowds were great.
“I’m not sure if that’s the McDavid factor or obviously we’ve got great supporters here throughout B.C.,” he said. “I think a lot of fans are recognizing we have some good young players in the Virtanen’s and McCann’s, Ben Hutton’s and Cole Cassells. It’s been a really well supported event. It just continues to get better.”