Vancouver's Cup empty again
The Canucks and their fans dared to dream big this season, with the usual result
Losing to Boston conjured old ghosts of bad trades, blown picks and bitter losses
Longtime Canuck Trevor Linden said a Cup would be bigger than the Olympic gold
Again. That feeling. You, the Canucks fan, should have been expecting it. There on the ice at Rogers Arena the Boston Bruins were passing the Stanley Cup: Zdeno Chara to Mark Recchi to Patrice Bergeron, each of them letting out a "YEAAAAH!"
And you, watching with that familiar emptiness, knowing that now this too would go into the catalog of Canucks memories you wish you could forget. The latest disappointment, that sense again: What might have been?
Up two games-to-none in the final series. Then up three games-to-two. The Cup just 60 minutes away. One win, just one more win . . . But no. Of course not. And as the Bruins hollered and whooped and the Canucks went gently into their not-so- good night -- a night made terrible by the rioting in the streets of the city (video) -- you thought about it all, and you let it all come flooding back. Again.
GALLERY: Canucks fans riot in Vancouver
You thought right back to the beginning, to the Canucks losing out on Gilbert Perreault in the 1970 draft lottery, the great prospect who would go on to light up the nights in Buffalo while Vancouver settled for Dale Tallon. Even before the Canucks' first game there was that feeling: What might have been?
You thought, too, about all those other lamentable draft days, bust after first-round bust -- J.J. Daigneault selected by the Canucks at number 10 overall in 1984, hobbling up to the draft podium on crutches, a grim symbol of a franchise, his ankle "entombed" in a cast, as the Sun's Iain MacIntyre would describe it.
The Canucks were eight seasons into their historic losing streak then, 1976--77 right through 1990--91. Sixteen years and not even a .500 season to be had. The NHL has never seen anything like it.
Now, as the current Canucks team receded and the Bruins kissed the Stanley Cup, you remembered, too, the trade with Boston. Yes, that one: 21-year-old Cam Neely sent out of Vancouver, 25-year-old Barry Pederson brought in. The Bruins getting a No. 1 draft pick out of the deal, too, and insult added to ignominy when that pick became Glen Wesley. (Neely a Hall of Famer; Wesley spending 20 years in the NHL; Pederson three so-so seasons in Vancouver, then on his way again.)
And now, in 2011, Boston had won again.
You thought about 1994, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and Nathan Lafayette's shot off the post. (Oh, what might have been!) And you remembered 2002, Round 2, an upset of the Red Wings brewing until Nicklas Lidstrom let one go -- from center ice! -- right past Dan Cloutier, and another season was lost.
You felt the lingering memory of all the playoff disappointments near and far, even the bittersweet sting of 1982: What if the Canucks hadn't gaffed away the lead late in Game 1 of the Cup final against the two-time defending champion Islanders that season? Could they have ... ? Might they have ... ?
No, 1982 was different -- that run to the finals better remembered as a rare gift, bequeathed by the hockey gods in the midst of those losing years, when the Canucks made the playoffs only because back then everybody made the playoffs. They beat the Flames and beat the Kings and then, against the Blackhawks, coach Roger Neilson got so exasperated with the officials that he hung a white towel off the end of his stick, raised it high in surrender.
By the next game the fans at Pacific Coliseum were waving white towels themselves, in solidarity, and the Blackhawks were defeated, and the joy of that series victory was enough that you kept waving the towel right up through this season, the 40th anniversary of the franchise. Waving it as if you would surrender everything for just one win in Game 7 at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011.
But then, Dear Roger in heaven, that win did not come. Bruins 4, Canucks 0. The Stanley Cup was in Vancouver, but the Canucks couldn't touch it .
"Bigger than the Olympics." That's what Trevor Linden, who has been wrapped up in Vancouver life for two decades, said that this Stanley Cup win would have been. Bigger than that gold medal game 16 months ago, here in Rogers Arena, when Sid the Kid put one into the net in overtime to beat Team USA. Folks were calling it the most important hockey win ever on Canadian soil.
Bigger than the Olympics. Roberto Luongo would agree. He said just that this spring after Vancouver won Game 7 -- of the FIRST ROUND. And maybe Luongo, who was on the ice when Sidney scored that goal, would have been right. After the Canucks beat the Bruins in Game 2, some 70,000 people filled the streets, about as many, officials guessed, as there had been when that gold medal was won.. Bigger than the Olympics? Here maybe yes, yes, it might have been.
You had craved this Stanley Cup for 40 years and you had coveted it since last September when coach Alain Vigneault, brushing aside the thoughts of another failed postseason in 2010 started talking about winning it all. "Our intentions are to play for a championship in June," he said. The players talked that way, too.
And when they went out and unfurled that dominant regular season (the Presidents Trophy!) and the backlash came, and people mocked the Canucks the way people have so often tended to do, but all that only drew the players closer. "It's about the guys in the room, the fans of the team, the family," defenseman Jannik Hansen said during the finals.
And more. This Stanley Cup would have been for Tony Tanti and Stan Smyl and Towel Power and for all the jokes about the run of Halloween-worthy jerseys that only Johnny Canuck could love. The Cup would have been for Vancouver and for British Columbia, for Kamloops and Prince George and Hudson's Hope. "A Canuck province" is what Linden calls B.C.
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"As corny as it sounds," said Dan Russell, a sports talk radio host in Vancouver for 27 years, "a Stanley Cup would complete us."
Only it didn't come. Again. Now it's 41 years of Canucks hockey. Forty-one long years and still incomplete.