CALGARY, AB – The Western Hockey League in association with the Canadian Hockey League, SUBWAY® and the Kelowna Rockets, today announced that retired Kelowna fire chief Gerry Zimmermann will act as the honorary captain of Team WHL during the SUBWAY® Super Series game between Team WHL and the Russian National Junior Team being held in Kelowna, British Columbia on Thursday, November 26th.
Zimmermann, 60, acted as Kelowna fire chief for 15 years before retiring in 2005. In 2003 Zimmermann led Kelowna through the devastating Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, becoming one of the most popular Kelowna citizens for his candor and his leadership during the fires, which burned over 200 Kelowna homes to the ground.
“This is an honour I really don’t think I deserve,” said Zimmermann. “I’m taken aback that they would ask me to do this. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me and this is one of the best.”
Team Russia and Team WHL will play November 26 in Kelowna, the final game of six in the Subway Super Series as Hockey Canada and Team Russia prepare for this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships. Tickets are available at www.selectyourtickets.com.
During the 2003 fires, Zimmermann became the face of the battle. His openness and honesty resonated with Kelowna residents and he quickly became one of the most recognizable and popular citizens in the city’s history. Just months after the fires, in early 2004, the Rockets hosted and won the Memorial Cup.
“When it comes to 2003 and 2004 we were drawn together,” said Zimmermann. “The community was recovering from the fire and the Rockets winning the Memorial Cup that threw another positive at us. People were proud of their community. They were proud of the way we came through the fire, then proud of the Rockets for winning the cup. One of the momentums I have is a Rockets jersey with my name on it and everyone of the Rockets signed it.”
Rockets President and General Manager Bruce Hamilton said it was an easy decision to ask Zimmermann to represent Team WHL.
“The year we won the Memorial Cup Gerry was the hero of our city and showed great courage,” said Hamilton. “The city has idolized him and we have the utmost respect for him. I’m thrilled he would accept this role.”
Zimmermann continues to recover from complications from gall bladder surgery in January. The procedure left him in an induced coma and fighting for his life. But he fought off the disease and is in good health.
Zimmermann says he had great support from the community during the Okanagan Mountain Park fires and during his health scare this year.
“The community has been so good to me and I had such great support,” he said. “That’s one of the things that pulled me through. It’s the same support I had through the fire. It’s two pretty dramatic things to live through. When you know people are behind you it helps you get through it.”
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)