This Is Our Home
When our esteemed editor “Q” came to me with the simple pitch “I’m a die-hard fan of the Canucks because…” it seemed like an easy article. You might as well ask me to write about why I’m a fan of food or breathing.
But wait, why do I love food or breathing? It’s something that I can’t quite articulate, something I’ve been doing since before I remember, something that keeps me alive.
The truth is I don’t really know. I’ve grown up in an environment where to question your devotion to the Canucks is to question your devotion to oxygen.
I mean, it’s not like I haven’t had to answer this question repeatedly to smug friends from Alberta or Ontario who are convinced I cheer for everything wrong in the world, but what response can you give in a bar over a Tragically Hip song?
It’s a question that seems timely to re-assess as we head into the great unknown, the 2012 playoffs.
1994: The Year the Canucks Broke
I was very young in 1994 and that run has nothing but good memories for me personally as it cemented my burgeoning Canucks fandom like I’m sure it did to every fan of my generation.
Being in pre-school I probably wasn’t throwing things at the TV as the Canucks limped through the late eighties and early nineties but certainly the attitudes of the adults in my life towards the Canucks weren’t favourable.
1994 then was a realization of what pride felt like when the entire city rallied around their beloved Canucks. I remember we had Canuck Days at school where every kid wore as much Canucks clothing as they could, and we did little oral presentations on the game the night before.
No, there was no turning back at that point.
Of course, 1994 was more of a blip on the radar than a coming-out party but the Canucks still held sway. Firstly, they were a family member.
Your dad was a fan, and your uncles, and your cousins.
They were the easy conversation at Christmas and Thanksgiving, the team you battled over when you snuck away to play NHL 95.
I remember one of my sister’s dance recitals being scheduled on the night of a playoff game late into the ’94 run, possibly even a Finals game, and when some guy on stage came out to announce the Canucks had won, every Dad in the audience cheered louder than when their daughter was on stage.
It simply became you.
That ’94 team still holds a special place in every Canuck fan’s heart. Kirk McLean, Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Cliff Ronning, Gino Odjick, Jeff Brown, Jyrki Lumme, the gang’s all there.
I remember vividly Game 7 that year against Calgary. We were on a family vacation in the Bahamas, and no matter my protests my Mom was not going to cancel dinner reservations so that we could stay in the hotel room and watch hockey. That wasn’t the point of a vacation, she said. She was probably right but still…
Anyway, as I picked through my meal my Dad turned to me and said “Son, you don’t look so well.”
Huh? “No I feel — ”
“No you don’t look good at all. Might be food poisoning. I better take you back to the hotel room.”
It was a beautiful plan, even if my Mom probably turned a blind eye to it, but alas we fell asleep together on the couch somewhere during the first overtime and never saw Bure’s iconic goal.
The Messier Monopoly
Another big influence in Canuck fandom is that it was and still is the only major sports ticket in town. If Vancouver had an MLB team or a functioning NBA team that wasn’t a complete disaster, the dark years of Mark Messier and Mike Keenan might have siphoned off a lot of frustrated fans into their arms.
But you weren’t going anywhere. You were going to watch because there was nothing else.
It’s why the application of the term Stockholm Syndrome to this team doesn’t only refer to the Scandinavian talent…
And yet…I still remember that mom bursting into our class just before the final bell to tell us Trevor Linden had been traded. She was crying, so we did too. No one was ever pointing a gun at our heads to make us be Canuck fans, it was more that we were Belle and it was the Beast.
Then the West Coast Express happened and it reminded you for the first time since 1994 that being a Canucks fan could be exciting. But this being the Canucks it also reminded you that this team was doomed, perhaps forever, to always come up short. Dan Cloutier, Todd Bertuzzi? I rest my case.
It was the most exciting era of Canucks hockey to date and it produced exactly one playoff series win where the Canucks clawed back from being down 3-1 only because the St Louis Blues were absolutely ravaged by the flu bug.
It was after all what we have been conditioned to do with the Canucks, temper expectations. You began to wonder if that fateful, magical Cup win would ever happen, and learn to deal with the Albertans and their borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80s.
Even today, Alberta has a special hate-filled place in their heart for the current incarnation of the Canucks. Divers, cheaters, thugs, ruining the game of hockey and all that we hold dear. I used to care, I used to fight back, now I just point at the standings and laugh. I’m having fun, and they’re not. That’s good enough for me.
A New Hope
Because a funny thing has happened since Mike Gillis took over. No wait, let’s back up.
A funny thing happened when Canucks Sports and Entertainment took over from Orca Bay. It finally gave the Canucks not only local ownership, because the Griffiths family was very very local, but local ownership with money and the want to spend it on the team.
The WCE era had put the Canucks back on track and started the sell-out streaking, jersey-selling cash machine the Canucks are today.
In about a decade, it will probably be seen as the most significant turning point in franchise history.
The Aquilinis could have taken all that cash for themselves and hosted demolition derbies for 20 foot private yachts in international waters, but instead they wanted to buy a Cup. So they got Mike Gillis, and re-invested, re-invested, re-invested.
It’s not just a culture of winning, it’s a mandate to win.
The last few years have been a lot of things, but they’ve also been the best years ever to be a Canucks fan. Sure, we didn’t win the Cup, but this team accomplished a multitude of things that have never been done before in franchise history.
Remember, this whole winning thing is still relatively new to this franchise. Just ask your Dads.
But this could be the time. There’s a feeling you get with this current incarnation of the Canucks that I’ve personally never felt before.
A trust that all we share one common goal with the same passion and more importantly a drive to get there at all costs.
On the ice, we’re treated to the most exciting brand of Canucks hockey ever built. Franchise players in the Sedins and Roberto Luongo spoil us with their high level of play. Rags to riches stories like Alex Burrows inspire us.
Off the ice this team is involved in the community far beyond anyone else in the league. You have Dan Hamhuis of course, and Manny Malhotra. You have the Sedins donating $3 million to BC Children’s Hospital.
It all feels so right.
Is this the team?
Is this the year?
All I know is that this is the best shot and I’m ready to take that plunge down the rabbit hole one more time.
After all, what made that victory over the Blackhawks so sweet if not the two defeats prior?
We are all Canucks, of course we are. What else would we be?