Kamloops welcomes the world
Kamloops welcomes the world
Top female players to shine in B.C. city
The scenic British Columbia city, located a 40-minute flight or four-hour drive east of Vancouver, is thrilled to be hosting the biggest annual showcase of international women’s hockey. Its only previous IIHF experience came during the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship, as Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Latvia played round-robin games there.
Kamloops previously bid to host the 2013 Women’s Worlds, but fell short as the tournament was awarded to Ottawa instead. Still, this city of 85,000, picturesquely ringed by mountains, is no stranger to high-level women’s hockey.
In fact, Kamloops got a great warm-up for these Women’s Worlds when the 2014 Four Nations Cup took place here, featuring Canada, the United States, Sweden and Finland. Fans packed the 6,400-capacity arena, recently re-christened the Sandman Centre.
Regardless of their nationality, players loved the host city.
“It feels really professional, from what we saw,” said Sweden’s Pernilla Winberg, whose seven points at the 2014 Olympics tied her with Finland’s Michelle Karvinen for the tournament lead. “It’s always great to be over there and play tournaments, because everyone is so happy about it and positive about everything. They’re working so hard to help us out with everything.”
“I think Kamloops has been great for us,” said American star Brianna Decker, who scored the gold-medal winner at the 2015 Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden. “It’s a beautiful area, and hopefully my parents can enjoy the scenery as well.”
It’s hard to sum up just how much Kamloops thrives on hockey. It’s the kind of city where, after the Four Nations Cup concluded with Canada’s 3-2 shootout victory over the U.S., young female fans were still outside playing street hockey nearby at midnight.
Strong male hockey role models also abound in Kamloops. For instance, the Sandman Centre’s address is 300 Mark Recchi Way. Recchi, who won gold at the 1988 World Juniors and 1997 Worlds and sits 12th in all-time NHL scoring, is just one of the big names to emerge from this area.
Many of Canada’s best-known IIHF stars played major junior here with the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers. Two-time Olympic gold medalists Scott Niedermayer and Jarome Iginla head up that list, along with Shane Doan, whose resume features two World Championship titles. Another long-time NHLer, Doug Lidster, went from playing at the 1984 Olympics to serving as an assistant coach with the gold-medal women’s team at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
The Blazers, three-time Memorial Cup champions (1992, 1994, 1995) as Canada’s top junior club, have also spawned many prominent coaches. These include Tom Renney (now president and CEO of Hockey Canada), Ken Hitchcock, Marc Habscheid, and current bench boss Don Hay.
It’s no wonder Kamloops will host the 16th annual Hockey Day in Canada celebrations (February 3-6) prior to the World Women’s Championship. Undoubtedly, the stage is set for a fantastic ambience both on and off the ice this spring in Kamloops.
In between the 22 games at the Sandman Centre and the secondary venue, the 1,000-capacity McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, there will be plenty of ways for fans to entertain themselves.
Want to get some exercise? The nearby Sun Peaks Ski Resort is Canada’s second-largest ski area, covering three mountains with more than 130 downhill runs. There are also close to 20 groomed cross-country trails.
Swedish head coach Leif Boork paid a visit to the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park during last year’s Four Nations Cup. Next to the South Thompson River, it offers a fascinating look at local native culture, from traditional pit houses to grizzly bear legends. Alternatively, check out an 1843-constructed log cabin and a 1902 red Wolseley car at the Kamloops Museum.
When you get hungry, sample the high-end local fare at Terra, where Steve Yzerman has dined. The menu ranges from slow-braised bison short ribs to cherry brownies. Or create your own Neapolitan pizza at Bold Pizzeria, which is operated by former NHLer Steve Gainey, the son of Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey. Craft beer fans can stroll over to the critically acclaimed Noble Pig Brewhouse.
Yes, there will be plenty of reasons for good cheer. We can expect one of the most enthusiastically supported World Women’s Championships ever as Canada vies to regain its crown from the Americans for the first time since 2012.
After the Four Nations Cup final last year, Canada’s Brianne Jenner said: “The crowd was about 6,000 and really loud. It sounded more like 12,000. It was great. We had a great week in Kamloops. We’re excited that we’ll be able to come back here for the Women’s World Championship.”
And now, it’s almost time for that milestone.
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