Instead of staying in Calgary after Monday’s game, or heading to Edmonton early for Friday’s game, the Wings will spend a few days in the picturesque city of Kelowna, British Columbia.
And the welcome mat will certainly be extend to the Wings, especially coach Mike Babcock, who returns to Canada this week for the first time since he coached Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal last month.
“Everybody is excited to see Mike as a gold medal winner, and the Red Wings,” said Bruce Hamilton, the president and general manager of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
Hamilton’s Rockets are playing hosts to the Red Wings at Prospera Place, where the NHL team has planned practices on Wednesday and Thursday. The Wings’ practices will be open to those fans that make a donation to the Kelowna Community Food Bank.
The buzz about the Wings’ arrival has already surfaced in Kelowna, which is the largest city in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and is set against a spectacular backdrop of mountains and lakes.
“The good thing is that it’s spring break here,” Hamilton said. “This week it will be a great thing for families, and kids particularly.”
Hamilton added that he’d be disappointed if the 6,000-seat Prospera Place, which sits on the eastern banks of Okanagan Lake, wasn’t filled for the Wings’ practices.
“We’re sold out for every night that we play,” he said. “From our standpoint, we’re probably into the 220 straight games sold out range. So we’re expected full capacity for the Wings.”
Hamilton said that he received a call last fall from Wings general manager Ken Holland, who inquired about rink availability. Besides the team’s on-ice accommodations, Hamilton is sure that the Wings players and coaches will enjoy the off-ice amenities.
“I think the one thing that Ken wanted was to get a bit of a zip in their practices before they continued their trip,” Hamilton said. “Our coaches are excited. Mike called on Saturday and told me to remind our coaches that they’re invited to sit in on their coaches meetings.
“They were looking for a diversion. The climate here is nice. The golf courses are open. We’re in between seasons, so the restaurants that closed for January are all open again. It’s a golf mecca here in the summer.”
There are no fewer than a dozen championship golf courses in Kelowna, where the day-time temperatures this week are expected to be in the mid-50s.
A very affluent community, Kelowna is also quickly becoming known for their numerous internationally-acclaimed wineries that now call the Okanagan Valley home.
“We used to be known for our soft fruits and this are is now a wine industries – going from apples and cherries to grapes,” Hamilton said. “We’re becoming famous for our wines, especially the reds, and I’m sure your coaches will sample some of them.”WINGS-ROCKETS TIE:
The Rockets’ regular-season ended last Saturday, but the Wings will still have the opportunity to see one of their young prospects.Mitchell Callahan
, whom the Red Wings selected in the sixth-round of last summer’s entry draft, is gearing up for the WHL playoffs. The Rockets begin a best-of-seven game series against the Everett Silvertips this weekend.
Callahan, 18, of Whittier, Calif., finished the season with 20 goals, 27 assists and 20 fighting majors.
“He’s got a little edge to him,” Hamilton said.