Canucks, and their fans, all in
EMBEDDED IN ENEMY TERRITORY, British Columbia — People in New England think in terms of 0 for 39, but the real number is 0 for 79.
Canadians have feelings, too, you know.
The Boston Bruins have not won the Stanley Cup since 1972. You can’t go five minutes these days in our town without hearing about that one. But the Vancouver Canucks have been a dues-paying member of the National Hockey League since the 1970-71 season and they are still waiting for their first Cup. That’s 40 seasons of emptiness, and thus we have our combined total of 0 for 79, all of which means one fan base that already feels very sorry for itself soon will feel even worse, perhaps as early as 11 tonight.
Now, while there is no doubt that Boston is the most rabid and knowledgeable hockey city in the United States of America, it’s still, well, the United States of America. We have other interests. We have the largest sports smorgasbord in the world. Boston is clearly agog over the Bruins, but we have had many moments of agogery, just in the past decade. Should the Bruins win the Cup, it will mean they have joined the club, making it seven championships in the four major American team sports since the 2001 Patriots won their first Super Bowl. We know how to do those parades.
It’s an entirely different matter out here in Vancouver. The Canucks face minimal competition for the hearts and minds of the local sports fans. Baseball? Whereas once there was a Triple A Pacific Coast League team here, this major city now plays in the short-season Northwest League against the likes of Salem-Keizer (that’s Oregon), Boise, Yakima, and Everett. The Vancouver Canadians season doesn’t even begin until Friday night, when the Yakima Bears come to town. I have no idea what Vancouver is doing in this league. I’d be willing to bet that Vancouver is, by far, the largest organized baseball market with a short-season franchise.
Football? Yes, the BC Lions are a legitimate and honorable part of the local sports scene. They’ve been around since 1954 and won the Grey Cup five times, most recently in 2006. The CFL has its place here. That would be a distant second.
Basketball? The NBA had a team here from 1995-2001, and it’s pretty safe to say it crashed and burned, requiring relocation to Memphis. There may be a few mourners lurking about, but I haven’t encountered any.
Soccer? The Vancouver Whitecaps FC plays in MLS, and, like most MLS teams, it has a hard-core following.
No, friends, out here it’s all about hockey, hockey, and more hockey. Never forget that this is CANADA, the mother country of the most popular sport played on ice.
The 2010 Winter Olympics proved beyond all doubt just what hockey means to this country. The hosts were cleaning up for the better part of two weeks, leading the medal count. It was a surprising showing, and people were very proud indeed. But as the days dwindled to a precious few, and then to one last event on the day of the closing ceremonies, it was evident that most Canadians gladly would have packaged all the first 13 golds in exchange for the only one that really mattered. Had Canada not beaten the USA for the men’s hockey gold, one easily could have draped a gigantic black veil over this country that would have stretched from the Yukon Territory to Prince Edward Island.
To this day, the idea of not winning the gold — and don’t even think about the fact that it would have been lost to the Americans — on their home soil is unthinkable.
Now we have the Vancouver Canucks one game away from winning their first Stanley Cup. I think I can safely say that not winning the Cup — and don’t even think about the fact that it would be lost to those bullying Boston Bruins — is unthinkable.
The Canucks do not have one of those sorry histories. There’s no too-many-men-on-the-ice tale of woe. They’ve just been blah more often than not. Is this worse than being teased and tortured? I think so. I’ve always believed that in the pursuit of sport it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
The Canucks have been to the Stanley Cup Final twice prior to this year. They first got there in 1982, when they entered the playoffs with a losing record and got hot. They were up against the New York Islanders, who were en route to winning four straight Cups. Chances of winning: zero.
Twelve years later they came in as a seven seed. They beat Calgary in Round 1. They fell behind the Flames, three games to one, but came back to win the series, taking Games 5 and 6 in OT and Game 7 in double OT. In the Final they played the Rangers, who were trying to end a 54-year drought amid great local publicity. The Canucks got to Game 7, losing, 3-2. That’s it. That’s the franchise highlight.
And here they are, conference semifinal losers to Chicago the last two years despite 100-point seasons, and now in the Final after compiling the league’s best record.
The town is starved for a championship. For most of their existence there hasn’t been a pretense to even dream of a Cup. One game away, you think it won’t go down hard if the Canucks can’t pull this off? These people are ready.
Here’s what you see in Vancouver. You see signs saying THIS IS WHAT WE LIVE FOR. You see signs saying WE WANT THE CUP. You see signs saying GO CANUCKS GO, and you also can see these signs on the front of buses and even on a movie theater crawl.
Look, I know how badly die-hard Bruins fans want to win. But if it’s a caring contest, they will lose. In this country, hockey is the unofficial state religion. Bruins fans may want it. These people need it.
One more thing: This is Lord Stanley’s town, and his statue in the gorgeous park bearing his name currently sports a Canucks jersey. He is holding a replica Stanley Cup and a hockey stick. Unfair advantage?
Just so you know, eh?