- Vancouver, British Columbia - I love hockey. I have since I was 7 years old, when my father first introduced me to the sport. It wasn't long until I was begging him to sign me up for a team, the West Vancouver Thunder, as I wanted to play in the National Hockey League. My love for the Canucks was solidified into a part of who I am after the 1994 Stanley Cup run, which resulted in a crushing Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers. I have always loved my Canucks, and I have always believed that one year, they will re-pay my 19 years of support with a championship. Unfortunately, after the 1994 Stanley Cup run, the team began to fall apart and became basement residents of the National Hockey League. They were so bad in fact that there were concerns about the attendance and whether it was financially viable to keep a team in Vancouver any more. Nobody wanted to go to the games to watch a bunch of losers. Being a teenager still and being in a family of five kids, going to games wasn't really an option financially, but I watched every game possible on the television in support of them. From time to time, we did receive free tickets from people who didn't want to go, or couldn't find anyone else to take their tickets. I loved going even when they lost, sometimes badly.
Yet many Vancouverites would mock those who attended the games and wondered why they would cheer for such bums? What was there redeeming about a team who just couldn't string together more than two wins in a row? I'll touch more on this later. I remember Canucks Day in Grade 12. I attended a private school with uniforms, but on Canucks Day, we were given the opportunity to wear Canucks clothing or jerseys instead of our uniform. I, however, did not have any money to buy any such clothing since I was paying my own way through private school. Yet when I showed up to class in standard uniform, I cannot recall how many times people asked me if I wasn't a Canucks fan, or worse yet, "what are you, a Leafs fan?" I have never forgotten that.
But this recent season, the Canucks were consistently at the top of the league. They were the leaders across the board in many statistical categories. And then the city decided to throw their support behind the team. People across the city have been clearing out stores just to get their hands on a jersey or a T-shirt with a Canucks logo, because they wanted to be a part of something special. They wanted to say that they were fans when the Canucks won their first Stanley Cup championship. However, at various time throughout this Stanley Cup run, I cannot count how many times I have been discouraged at the supposed loyalty of Canucks fans. It became evident quickly that most of these people were not in fact fans of the game, but fans of the idea of success.
One of the most telling statements that says to me that someone knows absolutely nothing about hockey is something akin to, "these guys are paid millions of dollars and they can't win? This is bullshit." These supposed fans fail to realize that the other team is full of guys who are paid millions of dollars as well, and that there can only be one winner. Sport is a battle between two teams or players that want the same thing, but only one is going to receive it, whether it is a championship or a win. It is not such a difficult concept to grasp in my mind, but apparently it is for many others in this City of Losers.
Or another of my favourite statements throughout this Stanley Cup run was hearing so many people suggest, "you know, they are trying to make the series go to seven games, because you know, it is all about money." This statement equates the National Hockey League to that of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), as if it is all staged for great dramatics and revenues. Yes, professional sports is a business, but this is far too simple minded. The theory goes that it is in the interests of each team to have as many games in their building to gain extra revenues, and in this post-9/11 era of conspiracy theories running rampant with little pooh-poohing or demands for credible evidence beyond mere suspicion, it is little surprise that this theory catches far more traction than it should.
In fact, I think this theory infuriates me more than bandwagoners jumping off when a team is losing (may they break their ankles!), because it calls into question the integrity of the players. It is a failure to acknowledge how big winning the Stanley Cup is to the players. It is something that they have dreamed about their whole lives, and unless you've played competitive hockey, you'll probably never understand how powerful of a draw it is. It makes me think that these conspiracy theorists know nothing about what it is to so passionately pursue something that you'd sacrifice everything. Even the idea that a coach would come into the dressing room and say, "Hey boys! Owner says to throw this game, so we can have a winner takes all in Game 7. The other team has agreed wait until Game 7 to really play" is insulting to me as a former hockey player, and 19-year hockey fan.
Let's first break this down. We've all watched WWE at some point in time and everything about it is faked and staged. They pretend to be the victims of physical contact and generally speaking, some of them are actually mildly convincing on the wrestling mat. Why do you think Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson among others have been able to turn their wrestling careers into acting careers? But the thing is, we all know that they are acting on the stage. The producers of WWE manipulate the greatest drama possible out of their scenarios.
If the National Hockey League is like the WWE by throwing matches to prolong playoff series, then I would have to say that hockey players are far worse actors than wrestlers, as some of the diving and embellishment of contact is downright pathetic, almost on par with European soccer players. Think about it.
But perhaps most disturbing about this suggestion that it is all faked and staged in the National Hockey League is that it calls into question the real, honest emotions that are captured on film when the players win the Stanley Cup. I recently watched the NBA trophy presentation of the Larry O'Brien Trophy to the Dallas Mavericks and I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the emotions of the players. Sure, they were happy to have won, but it was nowhere to the level of emotion that the Boston Bruins, or any other previous Stanley Cup champion, has had when they were first able to raise the Cup over their head. It is both compelling and powerful.
Yet in this City of Losers, when things don't go the Canucks' way, the fans resort to conspiracy theories when things do not go their way. They have no understanding of sport or competition, but instead throw their team under the bus when they are not repaid for their miniscule emotional investment in the team. We cannot accept defeat gracefully and they make all Canucks fans look like a bunch of sore losers. As a colleague said, it is strange that in a city that has never won a Stanley Cup, we are still terrible at conceding defeat. Yet, I cannot say with a clear conscious that these sore losers are not "real Canucks fan," because the truth is that I don't hold a monopoly over what determines a Canuck fan to be real or fake. There is no Canucks' fan charter, but I have my own opinions. While I wish I could divorce myself from the rioters who trashed my city on Wednesday after the Stanley Cup loss, I can't. The only conclusion that I can form is that Canucks fans are among the worst hockey fans in the National Hockey League. Nobody turns on their hockey team with more speed than Vancouver. One Day, Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is the hero of the city for shutting out the Bruins in Game 5, but then the most hated man after a weak game in Game 6. The criticism of Luongo has been that he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as we never know who is going to show up, but in truth, I would argue that it is the Canucks fans who have a far worse case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is a city of fair-weather bandwagoners, who will only cheer when the team is successful, and when they are not, they mock the loyal few that continue to cheer.
In one moment, we saw a city united in passion for its hockey team in a beautiful sight, while in the next moment, we saw our city sink into a third world war zone when the team lost. And while I said earlier that many respectable Canucks fans want to distance themselves from the hooligans, we simply cannot. These were people who had been united in the fervour, but clearly lack the maturity to accept a defeat and go about their lives. Sure, I am very disappointed by the Game 7 loss. In fact, it really stings me. It will take me several months to pick myself back up as a fan, but what I truly feel ashamed about is the response of Canucks fans.
If you were downtown on Wednesday night rioting, looting, trashing my city, you're an embarrassment. You should be ashamed of yourself. You've made us look worse than Leafs fans. I hope you're proud, City of Losers.