As they came close enough to the Stanley Cup to taste the champagne last week, the 1.6 million people who inhabit Canada’s Capital of Cool gave every sign of losing their poise completely. At Vancouver’s trendy Shark Club, the most determined fans showed up four hours before game time to claim seats with the best possible views of the sports bar’s 24 TV sets. It was a sensible precaution: with 90 minutes still left before the Canucks faced off against the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the best-of-seven championship series last Tuesday, club doormen began turning patrons away from the already packed pub.
No one was turned away, however, when 500 fans showed up at Vancouver airport before dawn on Friday to welcome their team home for Games 3 and 4. In fact, throughout the week and all over town, Vancouver’s normal air of detached sophistication was visibly dissolving into the sweaty, hoarse-throated screams of take-no-prisoners partisanship. As one fevered fan, accountant Stephen Hayward, yelled over the hubbub at the Shark Club: “We want to see a war here, blood and guts on the ice.”
If spectators did not exactly witness a war as the Canucks split the first two games of the series in New York City, they certainly saw more and better hockey, far later in the year, than most of them had ever expected from the Canucks. After a largely lacklustre season, the team seemed on the verge of folding in the opening round of the playoffs. But then Russian Rocket Pavel Bure sparked the first of a stunning string of victories that systematically put away the Calgary Flames, the Dallas Stars and the Toronto Maple Leafs on the way to delivering the 24-year-old West Coast franchise to its second-ever Stanley Cup final.
By last week, the early-season struggles were forgotten, as Vancouver fans revelled in their team’s powerful performance. “CANUCKS RULE RANGERS DROOL,” read one message, spelled out in letters seven feet high that filled the windows of a downtown office building. Riders on the 602 city bus had only the number to indicate its route: the panel over the windshield that normally shows the bus’s destination instead said: “Go Canucks Go.” From a crane at the building site of the Canucks’ new arena, a banner
boasted: “Stanley Cup storage depot under construction.” Observed Canuck supporter Michael Doyle: “Fans here have been waiting a long time for this. There’s going to be partying all the way through.”
Some of it far from Vancouver. Eric van Roon, a lighthouse keeper on remote Bonilla Island, 700 km northwest of Vancouver, acted as amateur sportscaster to relay game scores via VHF radio to halibut fishermen at sea. “It’s hopping when the game is on,” said van Roon. “One vessel will call us and they all stand by.”
On Vancouver Island, anonymous hands repeatedly rearranged stones spelling out the invitation to ‘Travel B.C.” in a garden display alongside the main highway into Victoria: after editing, the letters read “Pavel B.C.” Torontonians, still nursing their pride after watching the Canucks blow the Leafs out in five games, may be slow to share Vancouver’s excitement. And at least a few Albertans found themselves rooting for the Rangers—whose lineup is heavily stocked with former Edmonton Oilers, including star centre Mark Messier. But there was no ambivalence last week in Medicine Hat, the Alberta home town of Canucks Trevor Linden and Murray Craven: 2,000 townsfolk signed a congratulatory fax that caught up to the
team in New York. In Vancouver, meanwhile, fans basking in the Canucks’ championship series appearance seemed to relish the chance to defend the nation’s hockey honor against New York. “The Cup belongs in Canada, that’s the bottom line,” declared 20-year-old student Matt Anthony.
Never mind that the Rangers clearly outplayed the Canucks in both Game 1 and Game 2. Nor that a straw poll of sportswriters before the campaign even began established the more experienced New York side as the critics’ favorite to win the series. Vancouver is not a town given to such self-doubt. Larry Donen, managing director of the Canucks’ licensed souvenir outlet, had by last week already approved no fewer than eight different designs for T-shirts marking the Vancouver team’s as-yet unclinched Stanley Cup victory. “If we win at home,” said Donen, “I’ll have that stuff out right at the game.”
One Canuck fan convinced that she would soon be wearing a Stanley Cup champions Tshirt was Jennifer Carr. The 23-year-old edu-
cation student and summer nanny dropped her young charge off early with his working mother last Tuesday in order to join three friends at a table in Double Overtime, a sports-theme restaurant owned by Canuck Geoff Courtnall. Carr was back in the leftwinger’s establishment again on Thursday, watching the Rangers even the series at one game apiece. “They’re not playing very well,” she acknowledged of the Canucks. But Carr’s confidence remained intact. “I think they can pull it together,” she said. Her victory prediction: “The Canucks in six.” If correct, it may be some time yet before Vancouver recaptures its customary cool.
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