Jun 172011
 

You know it’s a brand new world when your walk to work in the morning smells like the remnants of either pepper spray or tear gas (and I’m thankful to not have enough experience to distinguish between the two). What drove Vancouver fans to this point? The only way to know is to check the notes and write a retro diary of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final between Vancouver and Boston.

7:50 a.m. – “Not Tonight.” One of my best friends, VH1 (for his Rain Man-esque knowledge of 80s and 90s music) decides it’s never too early to call and quote lines from the movie “Miracle.” As Kurt Russell/Herb Brooks says to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team before their game against the USSR:

“If we played ‘em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world.”

I will receive calls from VH1 quoting Miracle approximately 657 times throughout the day.

1:59 p.m. – I email JJ the link to Boston Dirt Dogs – a sarcastic Red Sox fan site that dabbles in coverage of all Boston sports. The site criticizes Boston’s “party-pooper police state” approach to Game 7 celebration-planning and compares it to Vancouver’s “big time” party atmosphere downtown. The storytelling word for this is “foreshadowing.”

5:00 p.m. – And we’re live with special guest stars Mrs. Wakefield and VH1 (who continues to quote Miracle during pre-game coverage on CBC)! Not sure if it’s an omen, but the classic Hockey Night in Canada musical montage for Game 7 is a gigantic let down from the epic Tragically Hip effort before Game 6.

5:10 p.m. – Don Cherry appears wearing a suit inspired by 1950’s wallpaper. He’s outdone himself. Classy.

5:20 p.m. – VH1 asks if Roberto Luongo will play with two blockers tonight, or if tonight will be a game where he actually catches pucks with his glove-hand. I have a good feeling about Vancouver’s emotional goalie. I think he’s got a chance to do something special, which is why I picked the Canucks to win in seven games (despite picking Boston in the pre-season).

5:25 p.m. – Probably the loudest singing of O Canada in Canucks history, if not of all time. Despite some tickets being sold for close to $8000, it’s a noisy, passionate crowd at Rogers Centre. You know, the exact opposite to any crowd at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. That’s a good sign.

Puck drop. Game on.

1:00 (First Period) – Great first shift from the Sedin line with lots of puck-control and pressure. Special players find a way to overcome adversity and deliver in clutch time. Vancouver needs them to be great too, since their absence in Games 1-6 has proven what I’ve suspected all year – that the offensive depth of the Canucks was grossly over-rated.

3:38 – For some inexplicable reason Kevin Bieksa turns into Tomas Kaberle, refuses to play the body, and lets Brad Marchand stickhandle two feet in front of him into the offensive zone. Marchand, whose probably been Boston’s best forward in the series, naturally turns this into a scoring chance, with Luongo making a massive save to keep the game scoreless.

11:38 – Boston’s 4th line is dominating the Canucks, putting together 90 seconds of chaos in the Vancouver zone. Once again Kevin Bieksa’s struggling – Vancouver’s most important defenseman has had a terrible start to the game.

14:37 – Patrice Bergeron gets his stick loose in the slot and fires a shot through traffic to make it 1-0 Boston. This reeks of a bad coaching decision by Alain Vigneault. For the entire Stanley Cup Final Manny Malholtra has taken important defensive zone faceoffs for Vancouver. He was torched in Game 6 though, going 5-17. Thankfully, the team is flush up the middle with defensive centreman, as both Max Lapierre and Ryan Kesler have taken these types of draws. So who does Vigneault put out to take the draw? Henrik Sedin, statistically the worst faceoff centre on the team. Guess what? He lost the draw that led to the goal.

17:08 – CBC gets a close up of Daniel Sedin’s face. I can’t decide what describes the look more: is it “my wife is sleeping with my brother and having his baby and Cheaters just showed me footage” or “I’m Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back and Darth Vader is my father, which shatters my world view completely.” Either way, it’s not good for Vancouver.

End of the First Period – Mrs. Wakefield tells us CKNW reports people are already leaving the downtown. The Canuck bandwagon must have incredible suspension for all the jumping on and off it experiences.

4:54 (Second Period) – Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts have three giveaways on the same shift. The Bruins are playing a tactically sound game, dominating Vancouver on the forecheck. Minutes go by without Vancouver clearing the defensive zone cleanly. If you had told any Canucks fan before the playoffs that Tanev and Alberts would be playing crucial Stanley Cup Final minutes they would have thrown up.

9:00 – Alex Burrows beats Tim Thomas but Zdeno Chara saves a goal by blocking the shot before it reaches the back of the net. Tim Thomas probably had the greatest goaltending year in NHL history, but people forget the Bruins are where they are today because of Zdeno Chara. Ottawa fans must shudder to think what could have been if they’d invested in Chara and not Wade Redden or Chris Phillips.

12:13 – Luongo reveals he is playing Game 7 with two blockers, as he misplays a clear shot directed at his neck from the point with his glove. He overplays the rebound and Brad Marchand corals it, slips the puck through Kevin Bieksa’s feet (again, Bieksa plays the puck not the man), and wraps it around for a 2-0 lead. How good has Brad Marchand been in these playoffs? He has scored the most goals by a rookie in the playoffs in 21 years (since Jeremy Roenick in 1990).

16:07 – The biggest powerplay in Canucks history is about to start, as Zdeno Chara takes the first penalty of the game for interfering with a (diving) Ryan Kesler. That it’s taken 36 minutes to get to the first powerplay of the game is another reminder of how inconsistent NHL refereeing standards are these days. Anyways, this is the season for the Canucks. They need a goal here.

17:35 – Patrice Bergeron speeds past a pinching (and clearly hurt) Christian Ehroff and bowls his way down the ice into Luongo. For whatever reason – all mental – the Canucks goalie fails to have his goalie stick horizontal along the ice prior to the collision. As a result, the puck goes in. 3-0 Boston. The fat lady is putting down her sushi and getting ready to perform. VH1 says it’s over. Mrs. Wakefield has started searching real estate listings.

17:36 – The Sedins are now a -3 in the game. This is otherwise known as the opposite of a clutch performance.

18:00 – Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times tweets from Rogers Centre: “It’s so quiet in here you can hear the Stanley Cup being polished.”

5:51 (3rd Period) – We’re fast forwarding the diary now to get to the inevitable conclusion. Jannik Hansen – a player who has been surprisingly useful to the Canucks – has just taken a ridiculous retaliatory penalty at centre ice. It’s the type of penalty that has typified this series and most of the criticism levied at the Canucks from across the league – it’s dirty, unrelated to the play and entirely absent of respect for the opposition.

9:36 – Kevin Bieksa leads the rush for the Canucks into the offensive zone. This might be the first time all game a Vancouver blueliner has done so. What a difference from the San Jose series, where Canuck defensemen blew by back-checking Shark forwards to join the attack. Vancouver GM Mike Gillis built a team that could contribute offensively from the back-end. And yet, this blueline will finish the Cup Final goal-less for the series.

17:15 – Brad Marchand again with an empty-netter. He has officially become Claude Lemieux 2.0.

20:00 – The Boston Bruins are Stanley Cup Champions.

A few thoughts on the post-game celebrations:

- A part of me wanted Gary Bettman to hold onto the Stanley Cup a bit too long, and see Zdeno Chara lift him and the Cup over his head.
- Hearing Mark Recchi say “I love you man” when Zdeno Chara passed him the Stanley Cup was a brief glimpse into just how close the NHL dressing room of a Stanley Cup Champion becomes. These guys go to war for each other. There’s a bond that few of us truly know.
- I can’t wait for Ron Maclean to retire. He thinks he’s bigger than the game. It’s gotten to the point that I hope the CBC loses their hockey rights after next season.

Let’s be honest – at the end of the series its clear the right team won. Boston was deeper, with stronger goaltending and special teams play. Some will argue that Canuck injuries caught up with the team, but in reality Vancouver’s best players (Kesler, the Sedins, Luongo) were outplayed by their Boston counterparts (Krecji, Bergeron, Thomas). Add in a complete lack of secondary scoring, and there’s a part of me that wonders how Vancouver made it to seven games, let alone had a chance to win the Cup in Game 6.

Local complaints about conspiracies and refereeing fail to place the responsibility squarely where it belongs – on the Canucks themselves. As currently constituted this is a good, but not championship calibre, team. Beating up on a very weak Northwest Division certainly masked flaws. This is a franchise that needs a stronger second line to take pressure off the Sedins and make matchups more difficult for the opposition. The Canucks struggled every time their Super Twins faced a top-end defensive pairing.

Boston also got valuable minutes out of its fourth line, something Vancouver could just not duplicate. The team needs an upgrade there.

And while it’s not impossible (see the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006), it’s incredibly rare to win a Stanley Cup without a top-level defenseman on your roster. That being said, given GM Mike Gillis’s preference for blueline depth, it’s hard to imagine the Canucks focusing resources into a bluechip defenseman in the off-season.

As for those riots? The reasons behind them are complicated. Personally they represent a failure of the community, one glorified in every comment insisting “those weren’t real Canuck fans”.

Being a sports fan doesn’t require a membership card. There’s no test you have to pass or doctorate you have to earn. Its inclusivity is one of the great, most powerful things about sports. Anyone can feel like a part of a community – a part of something bigger than themselves.

In every community there are bad elements. In the case of Canuck fans, there is that element that gets into fights on the Rogers Centre concourse, or spits on fans of the opposition. Saying the thousands responsible for the destruction of Vancouver’s beautiful downtown core aren’t “real fans” is passing the buck – it’s not taking responsibility for or acknowledging that this element exists here.

We Are All Canucks. That’s the slogan for the franchise that got 100,000 people together in Vancouver’s streets to hang on every moment of the action. Rather than passing the blame onto a select few, maybe we should all take a harder look at what we want being a Canuck to mean, and then work together towards that.

Maybe this means instead of taking video of burning cars we leave the downtown when the police ask us to. Maybe this means instead of reading Tweets pre-game telling others to bring rocks downtown, we do what’s in our power to discourage such activity. Maybe this means various levels of government sit down and re-think these downtown celebrations and how to police them.

It certainly means we support initiatives like the Facebook page where people can volunteer to help clean up the downtown mess.

For better or worse, we are all Canucks. This should be a positive, good thing.

Alas, it wasn’t the other night.

  • Tom Wakefield

    For what it’s worth, i acknowledge Henrik Sedin technically “won” that draw, but when Boston controls the puck immediately following the faceoff, that really can’t be considered a victory in my eyes.

  • Tom Wakefield

    For what it’s worth, i acknowledge Henrik Sedin technically “won” that draw, but when Boston controls the puck immediately following the faceoff, that really can’t be considered a victory in my eyes.

  • Schorert

    Great piece.

  • Sternip

    Great article, by far the best dissection of where the Canucks went wrong that I’ve read. I feel like you could go into greater detail about some points you raised and it would be worthwhile

%d bloggers like this: