Spirits and fighters jets soared Thursday as the Memorial Cup received a military escort into the Tk’emlups powwow grounds, kicking off the tournament that's been a year in the making.
The historic hockey trophy made its way into the arbour flanked by Rocky Mountain Rangers following a flyover from Canadian Forces fighter jets.
The event kicked off with a performance by Sage Hills drummers and dancers, followed by a welcoming prayer by Tk’emlups te Secwepemc elder Evelyn Camille.
“Did you know that this is the first time that the opening ceremonies at the Memorial Cup tournament is being held within the First Nations community? And right now, we are all participating in creating and redefining an amazing path forward and that is the love of hockey,” Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir said following the prayer.
Yves Lacasse, host organizing committee chair, thanked Casimir and Tk’emlups te Secwepemc for hosting the opening ceremony as he took the stage.
“Folks, put on your party hats. Our host organizing committee’s been working long hours for over the last few months to plan special events for our community and for our guests,” said Lacasse.
“With over 500 volunteers, our team is ready to execute our plans. We believe that this is going to be the best Memorial Cup ever.”
Lacasse said that there would be numerous theme days throughout the course of the tournament, including Indigenous Day on May 31 and Women in Sports Day on June 3.
“For athletes and their families, This is a culmination of years of hard work, perseverance, grit and determination. They intend to battle fiercely and we will be there to cheer them on from the time the puck drops tomorrow night,” said Yves Lacasse.
CHL President, Dan MacKenzie, thanked the city, the host organizing committee and the Blazer’s ownership group, saying that they’ve done “an amazing job” preparing for the tournament.
“You put together an incredible schedule of events taking place both on and off the ice and I'm certain that all of our fans will enjoy for the next 10 days,” said MacKenzie.
“On behalf of the CHL, I thank you for all your efforts and the long hours that you put into this event. There's no doubt that your efforts will have a positive impact on the city of Kamloops that will last for years to come.
During the event, a rendition of the Canadian national anthem was sung in Secwepemctsin, the language of the Secwepemc.
Captains from each of the competing teams then presented jerseys to dignitaries.
Norm Daley, Kamloops Blazers president, came to the stage to unveil the design of the commemorative jerseys the Blazers will be wearing during their first game Friday.
The logo includes a poppy in the centre of a dream catcher, beneath hangs a pair of feathers and an Inuksuk. A Metis sash surrounds the dreamcatcher.
“This new pin is more inclusive of all indigenous groups, Metis, First Nation and Inuit,” said Daley.
The jerseys will be auctioned off following the opening game, with the proceeds going to the the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command Poppy Trust Fund.
The fund helps national veteran programs and supports veterans and their families in need.
The ceremony concluded with a celebration song by the Sage Hills drummers and dancers.
The host Kamloops Blazers open the tournament on Friday night against the QMJHL-champion Quebec Remparts. Puck drop is at 6:30 p.m.
The championship final will be played on June 4. All games are at Sandman Centre and broadcast live on TSN.
Further Memorial Cup event details are available online.