Hockey mad

I moved to Vancouver only about two months after the riots that took place after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final to the New York Rangers in seven games. I remember seeing the news that June and wondering what the heck I was moving to. I knew about hockey riots in Montreal, but I had thought Vancouver was more laid back.

As it turns out, hockey riots aren't really what they seem. The damage is caused mostly by vandals who use the large gatherings of people as cover for doing what they do. It's not hockey fans who do the real damage, or at least hockey is not the reason they do.

Still, it was clear to me that Vancouver was crazy (sometimes literally) about its hockey team. The Bruins have a lot of fans in Boston, but Boston is first a baseball town (Red Sox), second probably a basketball town (Celtics), then a football town (Patriots, even though they play south of the city), and finally a hockey town. Hockey is actually big in the area—at local arenas, in some high schools, and at universities. Quite a few National Hockey League players come from New England. But the Bruins are for fans. The Canucks are for the entire city, less those who really hate hockey.

I grew up with the six-team league, and like one of my favourite aunts (who used to slip away from family reunions to watch or listen to the game), I was a Bruins fan. I liked the Canadiens second best, but not the Maple Leafs for whatever reason. I remember the first expansion that added teams like the Blues and the Flyers, then the second expansion that included the Canucks. That might have been the first time I'd really heard about Vancouver, and being a Canadaphile, I thought another Canadian team in the NHL was a pretty cool thing.

I didn't follow the team though. When I went to university, I stopped paying much attention to hockey. I got into music and other things. It wasn't until I moved to Vancouver that hockey reasserted itself in my consciousness. It couldn't be helped. It's practically a requirement for citizenship! And of course the CBC would broadcast at least two games a week, very different than the hit-or-miss coverage in the States.

So I became a Canucks fan. They were my home team now. And after Sweetie moved here after she finished grad school, it wasn't long before she was screaming at the television too, and we started going to the occasional game.

Most of those years since the last Cup run in 1994 were pretty lean. The team would finish out of the playoffs. Or the team would finish in playoff position but would be eliminated in the first round. There were so many changes: Marc Crawford as coach, Marcus Naslund and Marc Messier as captains, Brian Burke making the deals. Trevor Linden, Alex Mogilny, Mattias Ohlund. Seemingly good teams that still lacked something. Then things started to come together. The Sedin twins, genuine snipers. Roberto Luongo, a playoff-calibre goalie. Young players coming up through the system or being obtained in trades. More playoff first round exits, then a second round exit, back to first, and finally this year—the President's Trophy (best record in the league) and the first Stanley Cup final since I got here.

At this point, the Canucks are in tough. They won the first two games at home by only one goal, but they looked brilliant doing it. They stunk up TD Garden in the next two games, doing everything wrong that they had done right in the first two games. Game producer Electronic Arts predicted a seven-game series with each team winning at home, and so far that has been the story. But the character of the losses compared to the character of the wins is troublesome.

The Canucks of the regular season should win. The Canucks of the Western Conference playoffs should win. The Canucks of the first two games of the final should win. But then they don't just lose, but lose spectacularly. And it harks back to the first round when, after going up three games to none, didn't just lose the next three to Chicago but lost a couple really badly.

I still think they are a better team than the Bruins, my former home team. But now they have to prove it. And we'll be watching, waiting for a celebration we deserve. But please not a riot!


Aerin said...

Loving hockey is not a Canadian requirement. I was born and raised in Edmonton during the heyday of the Oilers and Gretsky but I still couldn't care less. LOL I just don't get the appeal of watching grown men knock out their teeth and scramble their brains to chase a chunk of rubber around the ice. Weird.

Véronique said...

I realize there are some Canadians who don't like hockey. I think they're still OK people -- probably. :)

The appeal isn't the bad stuff that you cited. It's in watching great passing and breakouts, and odd man rushes and goalies standing on their heads to make the save. It's in watching highly skilled athletes play the second most beautiful game in the world.

And I love watching our women's national team play as well.