2011 Stanley Cup Final, Vancouver, Canada

2011 Stanley Cup Finals, game 7

Karly, Gary, Mike and Audrey

First, I’m not a Canadian and I know little about hockey, but I’ve been exposed to hockey and various forms of the game for the last 10 years. Only in the last 2 years have I come to retain anything and begun to appreciate the sport and those who love it. For this series, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with the sport by witnessing a few live games and when the finals started, I watched every game on TV and even was fortunate to attend game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Not having a bias for a team allowed me to embrace the team my boyfriend follows–the Vancouver Canucks. In fact, this year, I earned my own Jersey (Kesler, #17). The fact that Kesler’s American reinforces that subtle combination that is me: an American Canucks fan. This post is my impression of this spectacular event.

Luongo warming up
Luongo warming up

   There are a few things I have observed in my time watching hockey. First, hockey is complicated. There is a lot happening all of the time and you must pay attention. Blink and you likely missed something. Players get hurt (a lot), sometimes seriously, sometimes not. Hockey is also a fast and brutal game. Head games are part of the playing experience and players run hot and can be hot headed. Finally, actions taken in the rink are sometimes not related to anything that is happening in that moment or game. Sometimes, it’s about something that happened in another game entirely.  Players do not forget, will get revenge or avenge another player and as a fan, we love this.

Since I’m not an avid or even true fan, the way others are, I know that this game doesn’t mean the same to me as it does to others. When I was in Vancouver for the gold medal match Canada vs. USA in 2010, I unexpectedly experienced an entire country’s obsession or passion for the game and how it mattered to them, the outcome. I don’t think I can relate to this the same way because it’s my impression that in the States, we don’t have that kind of National pride in any sport. In fact, when I’d returned to the States after the gold medal game, high on the atmosphere of the Gold win in Canada, my colleagues and friends were barely aware the game was even on, let alone who won. One year later at the Stanely Cup Finals in Vancouver, Canada I was better prepared for the atmosphere and had an inkling of awareness for how deeply this event meant to the city of Vancouver, and possibly to Canada.

Having watched all of the playoff games, and up to date on the Boston-Vancouver stats, I was confused. Vancouver came out of the gate like bulls, strong, fast and lucky. But, every game in Boston showed a different team, a team out of sync, caught off guard, hot headed and caught looking (as they say in baseball when the batter gets a strike, the ball having already sped past and the bat never swung). Luongo was disappointing (and I love Luongo) and to watch him get pulled was heart breaking. I didn’t want the Chicago kind of upset that got into his head then, to happen now. We needed him, but Schneider’s ice time was good. I didn’t lose hope. The first two losses in Boston were quickly forgotten when Vancouver took game 5 making the series 3-2 –I would never doubt Luongo again.

I was set to be in Vancouver on the day of game 7, but game 6 was still underway. My dvr wasn’t recording and I missed the back breaking check from Boston’s defenseman Johnny Boychuk to Vancouver’s Mason Raymond that happened 20 seconds into the game and has taken Raymond out of play for sevearl months. I also missed 2 of the ensuing goals. By the end of it all, Luongo benched and a beating of 5-2, I kind of wished I had missed the whole game. It was depressing. My silver lining was that I would now be able to enjoy game 7 in the city that was enjoying home court advantage. Even I didn’t think we could lose that night.

Alex Burrows

Alex Burrows

Despite the ridiculous pricing of seats for this game, I would not change a thing to have the opportunity to be in the arena. Watching the pre-game warm up has become the highlight of attending a game as the players skate by you, tap the walls, back into the glass and even wink as they pass by to show their appreciation.   These boys are big and on skates look even bigger. Watching them warm up, I could tell they were focused, adrenaline was high and I wanted desperately to tell them to believe, relax and play the best game of their lives. But, the smiling and enthusiastic fan base huddled around the glass cheering would have to be enough.

Game 7 was a spectacle, as I expected it would be. See some video of the pregame skate here. Despite the home crowd and the high expectations from sealing 3 of the 4 games on home ice, Vancouver couldn’t take the Cup, nor a single goal. It was disheartening, fans were still cheering, showing respect for the game and the players and Vancouver responded with a courtesy skate ‘Thank You’ before retiring to the dressing room. The big screen in the arena zoomed in on the players and my heart dropped and my eyes teared as the faces of the Canucks passed the screen. The players were visibly upset, Burrows was near, if not actually, tearing, himself and that last skate to a crowd chanting ‘Go Canucks Go’ left an impression that chokes me even today. I am not surprised that this game has won over the hearts of many. Here’s to you, Vancouver Canucks, for taking us this far and showing that Vancouver is Cup worthy. Your time will come…maybe next year.

I heard trading starts June 21, an award ceremony in Vegas is on June 22, so it looks like the summer starts abuzz with change. I hope some of my favorites remain on the team, not like that first year I started learning hockey and got attached to a few names and all of sudden (to me) I had to learn a whole new set of faces and names that next season.

After the game, and what will forever go down in hockey history books as the riot of 2011, I started hearing rumors of violence in the streets. Now, I understand how much this game meant to the city, to fans, maybe even to Canada, but it is no excuse to get out of control, vandalize property or hurt other people. Admittedly, I was taken by surprise that people would take this loss and the masses of people out on the street, as an opportunity to let loose and forego common sense to overturn and set fires to vehicles, smash windows and loot stores, taunt and engage in random violence with other street walkers, including police. Mob mentality was in full force and what a strange beast it was to witness.

Mike and Audrey

Gary sneaking into our photo

Leaving the arena, security warned us of riots breaking out on Granville. Turning the corner, we find ourselves barricaded from walking to Roger Neilson. Apparently, a fan tried to jump from the top tier of the arena exit over a guardrail and onto the upper viaduct, leaping over a void several feet wide and falling to the ground below. Luckily, no one was under him as he crashed through a metal awning and splat! onto the ground. One of our friends was nearby when it happened and her recollection of the event sent chills down my spine. We were fortunate not to have witnessed the event and were only able to see the man’s legs as paramedics arrived and began the labourous work of taking him to hospital where he remains in critical conditon (as of today).

Vancouver up in smoke 1

Vancouver up in smoke 1

Deciding to avoid the Granville upset, we headed towards Abbott and the Seabus. Stopping at Steamworks (which closed early to avoid being swept into the vandals path) for a drink and to catch up with a few other people, we were able to watch the chaos on TV, stunned. Many of the Canadians, including our party, commented on how embarrassed they were for their city. It was clear that a small group of people were the trigger, with rioting groups protecting other rioting groups. But, what was unacceptable and unbelievable to witness was the bandwagon people were jumping on to be a part of it. Why? For some reason, that night, people got off and thought they were cool by being desctructive and abusive. There are numerous videos and photos of the devastation caused.  For myself, I was happy we didn’t get tangled up in any of it and I felt bad for everyone who would head into town the next day to deal with the aftermath. No one was allowed into the city that night and everyone was pressured out. Transportation would only take people away from the city. And from my vantage point, it looked like the culprits were, for the most part, young people. The media couldn’t emphasize enough and I have to agree that everyone loitering well into the night were there for the entertainment factor, which made the whole spectacle even more disturbing.

Vancouver up in smoke

Vancouver up in smoke

Looking up the street at the billowing black smoke, each of us gladly turned and boarded a packed Seabus. I managed to get a few shots and some video of downtown up in smoke. It was like a dream. Would I do it all again? Absolutely. The game, itself, was amazing. Considering how many people were downtown and at the game, I was impressed that the majority of people accepted the loss and moved on, er home.   It’s always the case that one person can spoil a good thing for everyone and this riot will change the way the city handles future games. Maybe these new windows being replaced downtown will have bars on them to prevent break ins in the future. Is this what hockey has come down to?

Vancouver has a reputation for being a beautiful city filled with friendly people. The Olympic venue was one way for Canadians to show the world how friendly they are and yet, with this riot, the image of Vancouver will be tarnished–indeed, Canadians will now have a blemish on their reputation. It’s not a proud moment and the cause for such chaos? A game. I know I speak blasphemous when I say this, but come on guys, it’s only a game. It was not the end result any of us had hoped for, but it could set the tone for next year and maybe next year will be the year of the Cup. Keep your head high and be proud of how close they came and set your sites on next year starting with the trades on June 21. And as the story of the Flakes continues, remember: “the definition of being a Canucks fan is about thick or thin, win or lose, you have to be behind your team…” Go Canucks Go!

ps. a huge thanks to the numerous volunteers who went downtown today to help with the cleanup and a special appreciation to those in the Police force, SWAT team, Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and civilians who put themselves out there to stop or control the chaos.

pps. check here for the story of the flakes.

About Audrey Sniezek

Audrey Sniezek is a rock climbing athlete and computer software/technology enthusiast.
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