Tom Gaglardi is sour.
He looks at Western Hockey League standings and sees his Kamloops Blazers riding a five-game losing streak, but still positioned nearly 20 points ahead of the Kelowna Rockets,
His Blazers bid to host the 2020 Memorial Cup, but lost out to the Rockets, who will host the national junior hockey championship in May.
“I think you know how I feel,” said Gaglardi, majority owner of the WHL club. “Yeah, it was our turn. It should have been ours. It was the wrong thing. The league did the wrong thing.”
The Blazers, Rockets and Lethbridge Hurricanes made Memorial Cup bids in front of the WHL board of governors in Calgary in October 2018. The board voted in favour of Kelowna.
“It’s the 25th anniversary [of the Blazers’ most recent Memorial Cup win, which took place in 1995 in Kamloops], we were judged to have probably the best team of the host bids and it was our turn. We put together a heck of an offer and we didn’t win,” Gaglardi said. “Yeah, I’m sour, for sure. I’m disappointed.”
B.C. Division standings as of Feb. 11: Kamloops (68 points), Victoria (61 points), Vancouver (55 points), Kelowna (49 points) and Prince George (39 points).
Victoria and Vancouver have both gained ground on Kamloops in the last two weeks. Kelowna has won two of its last 10 games, but the Rockets are hard to judge given their injury-ravaged roster.
Gaglardi said his Blazers are not playing winning hockey at the moment, a lack of structure, confidence and work ethic precipitating the recent slide, which coincides with the loss of starting goaltender Dylan Garand to injury.
“We’ll have to tighten it up and our coaches will get that done, no question about it,” Gaglardi said. “It’s been a fantastic season. You call them the dog days of the season. You’re so far ahead in the standings. I think maybe we’re guilty of not working as hard as we need to. This is a good test for our group.”
Is facing adversity now rather than later a good thing?
“Ask Tampa Bay how they feel about last year,” Gaglardi, who owns the NHL’s Dallas Stars, said of the 2018-2019 Lightning, who finished first overall with 128 points — 21 points clear of the next team — only to be swept by Columbus (98 points) in the first round of the playoffs.
“You have 120 points and then, all of a sudden, you lose a big game and they didn’t know how to react. This is probably what we needed.”
Gaglardi praised team staff, the Blazers’ advisory board and volunteers for planning the club’s Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 celebration of past Memorial Cup and WHL championships.
But the party he really wanted to throw was a May shaker in the Tournament Capital.
The prospect of ruining Kelowna’s hootenanny is sweet, but Gaglardi remains sour for now.
“It was the wrong thing to do,” he said. “I’d rather be at home, but that is what it is and now we’ve got to get there the old-fashioned way, which we’re planning on doing. We’ve got as good a chance of any to win this thing. That’s the goal.”
The Kamloops Blazers Memorial Cup Anniversary Celebration on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 will take place in the year of the 25th anniversary of the club’s third and last Memorial Cup win.
“I’m excited to be around for it,” Gaglardi said. “We’re all looking forward to it.”
The event will also celebrate the Blazers’ 1992 and 1994 Memorial Cup championships, along with the 1984, 1986 and 1990 WHL titles.
Included will be Gord Bamford and his #REDNEK Music Fest, which will feature the Up Close & Personal Preshow with former Blazer players Rob Brown and Shane Doan and erstwhile coach Ken Hitchcock.
The Feb. 21 music festival will also have platinum-selling JUNO Award winner Jess Moskaluke perform, along with JoJo Mason, Eric Ethridge, Andrew Hyatt, Cory Marks, Duane Steele and GhostBoy.
Tickets are $39.50 online at ticketmaster.ca. To inquire about VIP options, call the Blazers’office at 250-828-1144.
On Feb. 22, Blazer alumni and guests will attend a brunch with members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 52, Anavets and the Rocky Mountain Rangers.
Also on Feb. 22, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., fans are invited to a free hot stove and autograph session with Blazers alumni, including former coaches Hitchcock and Tom Renney, former general manager Bob Brown and past players, including Brown, Greg Evtushevski, Tom Greg Hawgood, Shane Doan, Scott Niedermayer and more.
Fans will be able to have their photo taken with the Memorial Cup and Digger, the Blazers’ mascot.
The event will culminate with a game at Sandman Centre between the Blazers and Calgary Hitmen, with a pre-game ceremony recognizing returning coaches and players.
Norm Daley, chairman of the Blazers’ advisory committee, said 62 alumni are confirmed to attend, including players, trainers, coaches and management.