The opinions of a Western Hockey League radio broadcaster
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Back to where it all began
Arriving at the Colisee in Quebec City brought back great memories for Kelowna Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. Like a familiar friend, Lambert spoke glowingly about his time in the 15 thousand seat stadium that was once the home of the NHL's Quebec Nordiques from 1972 to 1995. Lambert made his debut in the Colisee after being drafted by the team in the 6th round in 1989. The iconic building, which is showing its age, will be demolished in September. The Quebec Remparts, who make the Colisee their home now, will move over to a brand new 18 thousand seat facility called the Videotron Centre. The hope in Quebec City is the 400 million dollar arena will find a new tenant in the way of an NHL team. It is a matter of when not if.
While the memories were not quite as vivid for me when I entered the Colisee, many things looked similar after my last visit in 2003. It was the Kelowna Rockets first Memorial Cup appearance against teams like Kitchener, the Quebec Remparts and Hull in 03. Very little has changed in 12 years. The broadcast location is the same. The entrance is no different. The arena has a certain charm to it despite a tired appearance. The building reeks of great battles won and lost on the ice and the vastness of the facility from high above still has that feeling of a pro venue without the pro amenities that teams are now accustomed too. To think, outside of a rock concert with Metallica before its demolition, this is the last major event at the Colisee. It is a privilege to be here for major junior hockey's ultimate prize.
The flight directly to Quebec City was without incident which is always good to report. The most eventful part of the flight was seeing another jet flying past us in the other direction cruising at 37 thousand feet. Seeing the other jet in the distance, I had a better appreciation for how fast we were moving. The flight from Kelowna to Quebec City took 4 and a half hours.
After checking into the hotel in Quebec City, the Kelowna media core quickly took a shuttle to the Colisee where the coaches of all four teams were involved in a media conference. To be honest, little is ever said by the coaches but it is an official 'kick-off' to the 10 day tournament. As expected, many of the questions and answers were in French with Rockets head coach Dan Lambert speaking frequently over the 10 minute event. Quebec Remparts coach Philippe Boucher is fluent in English, having played in the NHL with Buffalo, LA, Dallas and Pittsburgh. Boucher is a 1st round NHL pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 1991.
The Rockets were on the ice for a brief workout Thursday afternoon, but they were unable to skate at the Colisee. The reason? The new Memorial Cup logos were painted into place after Monday's conclusion of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final, so they needed to dry. That meant all on-ice workouts took place at an adjacent arena. I think it is important though that the Rockets get one quick skate in at the Colisee before puck drop tomorrow to get used to the boards, which in a building of that age, could create some odd bounces that the visitors need to be aware of.
Leon Draisaitl met with the media today in Quebec City. Much of the questioning revolved around him playing 37 games with the Edmonton Oilers. We have covered this story to nauseum on our broadcasts, but it is obviously of interest to visiting media, which is understandable. Draisaitl is one of two players at the Memorial Cup to play in an NHL game. The other is Quebec Remparts forward Anthony Duclair. Duclair played 18 games with the New York Rangers before being send back to junior hockey. Draisaitl and Duclair played against each other November 9th at Madison Square Garden. The Oilers won that game 3-1.
A great quote from Rockets head coach Dan Lambert at today's media conference. A member of the media asked him if Joe Sakic was a teammate of his when Lambert won the Memorial Cup in 1989 with the Swift Current Broncos. Lambert said, "No. We had to trade him away in order to win it". The comment gathered a large laugh from the assembled media who watched Sakic become a NHL super star in his seven seasons with the Quebec Nordiques.
It is only day two, but the shuttle services provided at the Memorial Cup is outstanding. The shuttle service allows teams and media to essentially move about the city without the use of a cab. A van is typically waiting outside a hotel where a driver will take you where you desire. I am so glad I didn't rent a vehicle. It really isn't necessary.
If you live in Quebec City, you speak French. It is the common language shared in these parts. That shouldn't come as a surprise. What has changed since my last visit in 2003 is the number of business people that do have a good grasp of the English language though. An increase in tourism may be a factor into why this city seems to be a little easier to get around in as a Western Canadian this time around.
This is the third time the Rockets have competed for the Memorial Cup in the province of Quebec. It marks the first time the hotel that the team is staying at could be considered above average. I don't know this for fact, but I am assuming the WHL did a greater job in making sure the league representative was taken care of with a higher level of accommodation than what we witnessed in 2003 and again in 2009. Not like the hotels were poor, but they weren't exactly the Crown Plaza in Portland or the Delta Bow Valley in Calgary.
A media scrum often provides some interesting questions. One reporter asked Dan Lambert why his team has no players numbers that exceed 31. Thirty one is worn by Jake Morrissey. The answer? Owner Bruce Hamilton is a traditionalist. The highest sweater number worn at the Memorial Cup is #96, fashioned by Quebec Remparts forward Zachery Moody.