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What the Stanley Cup means to Vancouver

Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. Crowd shot by Howard Eaton.

Witnessing upwards of 100,000 people stuffed like sardines on the streets of Vancouver, it’s easy to see that something big is happening here.  The Canucks are far more than a hockey team to British Columbia. They’re our identity, a common thread between complete strangers.  Even the most casual fan can’t help but hit the streets in anticipation of this city’s defining sporting moment. 

The Olympics were incredible, but we had to share that with the rest of Canada and while there are many who consider the lone remaining Canadian team in the NHL playoffs as “Canada’s team”, a Stanley Cup would truly be ours, to be viewed and celebrated by any who want to, but not to be shared.

 The city of Vancouver has for forty years craved what is now within reach.  The Canucks have been close to the Stanley Cup before.  In 1982 an upstart team unexpectedly sped through the playoffs straight into a brick wall called the New York Islanders and were swept in four games.  Twelve years later, with yet another team not expected to win, the Canucks once again scratched and clawed their way to the finals only to face another New York power in the Rangers. 

94 wasn’t a sweep. In fact, the Canucks were a mere goalpost away from sending a pivotal game seven into overtime where they had been so good in those playoffs, and that is the sour taste that has lingered in the mouths of Canuck fans for the past seventeen years while waiting for another chance to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.  We’ve been left remembering how close we were, left celebrating when we “almost” won, because we haven’t come close since.  

 A lot has happened over those seventeen years.  During the 1994 run I was 6 years old and while I was swept up in the playoff fervor, I was still much too young to truly grasp what losing meant or just how long I’d have to wait to see my team play for its first championship again. 

Now with the Canucks back on the edge of greatness, I’m old enough to truly understand what a Stanley Cup would mean to this city and it’s easier to recognize the importance of the impending game or (god forbid) games, and describe what winning the Stanley Cup would mean to me, and the rest of the fans that have followed the Canucks through 40 years of (a few) highs and (mostly) lows. 

A history lesson in heartbreak

The Canucks are a franchise of constant heartbreak, so much so that they have been since before the franchise ever played its first game.  In the roulette wheel draft lottery to determine the first overall draft pick between Vancouver and expansion cousins Buffalo, the Canucks were mistakenly named the winners before it was revealed that Buffalo actually owned the pick.  The Sabres would select hall of fame player Gilbert Perreault, marking the beginning of 40 years of hard luck for the Canucks. 

 From losing in the finals in 1982, to trading away hometown star Cam Neely for spare parts (another hall of fame inductee, if we’re going to start keeping a tally), to coming oh-so-close in 1994.  Mentioning, but skipping right by the Mark Messier years, for everyone’s sanity, to 2003 where the Canucks were but a single game away from eliminating the Minnesota Wild (up 3 games to 1) to reach the conference finals. 

Heading into game 5, Todd Bertuzzi would tell the Minnesota fans not to bother buying tickets to a game 6.  The Canucks would go on to lose not only game 5, but game 6 as well forcing a deciding game 7 in which the Canucks would take a 2-0 lead halfway through the game before seeing Minnesota storm all the way back to win 4-2. 

Most recently, Vancouver would finally trade for the star goaltender for which it had searched for over a decade only to see Roberto Luongo crumble against the Chicago Blackhawks in two consecutive playoffs.  The Canucks have suffered from day one, but are now on the verge of finally ending the pain.

 The Canucks have been a history lesson in heartbreak in their 40 year existence, which is what makes a Stanley Cup more than a championship to this city.  With the franchise a single win away from the Cup, fans of the team are waiting for a slap back to reality.  If that never comes, and the Canucks are to close out the Bruins and win the team’s first championship, it represents deliverance from 40 years of agony, a means of putting a history comprised of futility and frustration where history belongs: in the past.

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