Wenatchee Wild forward Nathan Iannone has his hockey roots firmly planted in Penticton. He will suit up with the Wild to face the Penticton Vees on Saturday at the South Okanagan Events Centre at 6 p.m. Photo courtesy of Russ Alman/Digital Media Northwest

Iannone expects a Wild crowd in Penticton

The Iannone name has a storied past in Penticton’s hockey history, but on Saturday they will be rooting for the enemy.

When the Wenatchee Wild hit the ice against the Penticton Vees, that well-known name in local hockey lore will be emblazoned across the back of one of the visiting team’s jersey, and a group of fans will turn their backs on Penticton, if only just for an evening.

“I usually have a lot of family and friends that come to watch me play when I am in Penticton. It’s always cool to play in the rink you grew up in against the home team,” said Wild forward Nathan Iannone.

Iannone, 19, grew up in the Penticton minor hockey system, but it was his grandfather Nick Iannone who helped build some of that junior hockey history as head coach of the 1974 Penticton Broncos and assistant for the Penticton Knights for many years — including their 1986 Centennial Cup run. They were the first in the BCHL to win a national championship. That team, which included Summerland’s John DePourcq, who is now the head coach of the Summerland Steam, was inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. Nick also was heavily involved with Okanagan Hockey School, working with originator Larry Lund for 25 years.

Related: Penticton’s rich in hockey history

It is partly where the younger Iannone received his passion for the sport and why the pair are so closely bonded.

“My grandpa watches all my games through HockeyTV online. The family also has a cabin in Lake Chelan so they sometimes come down to watch games. We text all the time and usually my grandpa sends me something before a game or after he will send me tips and stuff,” said Nathan, who was travelling with the Wild to Trail as they prepared to meet the Smoke Eaters on Wednesday.

Grandpa’s ears must have been ringing.

“Oh, he just sent me a text now,” said Nathan, who hopes to land a NCAA scholarship this year or in his final BCHL year next season. “It says, ‘all the best tonight, good luck in Trail.’”

On Saturday, when Nathan skates out onto the South Okanagan Events Centre ice he will be celebrating his 100th game in the BCHL. Nathan, who tipped in the game- winning goal in one of the two matches where the Wild toppled the Vees last weekend, credits much of his success to his time in Penticton.

“I had the same coach in Penticton my whole time, Doug MacMillan. He always has been there for me in hockey and mentored me during those years. Then, at Okanagan Hockey Academy, I had Robert Dirk who is one of my favourite coaches and big role model for me as well,” said Nathan, who was an affiliate player brought up to play with the Vees for a few games during his time with OHA, then played for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks last season before making his way to the Wild this year.

And of course, “uncle” Rick. That is, Rick Kozuback, who was head coach of the Penticton Knights during their successful runs in the ‘80s and before that was a teacher at Penticton Secondary School. Kozuback, who now is the president and CEO of International Coliseums Company, has coached and managed hockey at many different levels including the Western Hockey League and NCAA.

While family and friends will surely be cheering loudly in Penticton there is always one person that Nathan can hear at his home away from home rink, no matter how loud the Vees fans are.

“Oh yeah, my mom for sure. I always can hear my mom cheering.”

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