Tonight, however, felt different—even though the city had spent some $1.3 million on preventive measures. Rai had been on the street since 4 p.m. and dispensed only a handful of high fives. All the while the mass of people had continued to grow; by 5:15 the CBC was estimating that the crowd in downtown Vancouver had topped 100,000, and inbound SkyTrain lines continued to deliver crush loads.
The vibe on the street was edgy. On the outskirts of the Live Site, Rai saw a young mother with a stroller trying to navigate the crowd. "How far up is the screen?" she asked him, craning her neck.
"Ma'am," he replied, "I don't think you're going to make it up there." He looked at the people around her—young, sweaty men yelling and bumping each other, now jammed so close that officers were unable to make their way through the sea of bodies. Where, he wondered, were all those happy fans from earlier in the playoffs?
At 6:49 p.m., Bergeron scored on a shorthanded goal to make it 3--0 Boston late in the second period. Sitting on the bench, where he always remained during penalty kills, Lucic looked down and saw his hands twitching; he was so excited he was literally shaking. Two levels up, Lam turned to his right and, half joking, said to a peer, "They're going to burn this city down tonight."
It was midway through the third period when fans began lobbing bottles at the giant screens at the Live Site. Not long after, at 7:18 p.m., 30 to 40 people were reported fighting at Homer Street and Dunsmuir. Twelve minutes later, 911 operators received calls reporting "rioting in the streets" and VPD officers "losing control of the crowds." Shortly thereafter, a group of firefighters was swarmed by crowds, looting was reported at the Gucci store on Georgia Street, and EMS received a call to treat a spinal injury.
At 7:45 p.m., the final horn sounded on a 4--0 Boston victory. From the bench Lucic burst through the gate and onto the ice, threw his gloves and helmet into the air, and raced to the huddle of players by the net. The Bruins were the 2011 NHL champions.
In Ohio, Carrothers pulled up Boston media feeds on his desktop computer, prepared for chaos. What he heard was shocking: A riot was under way, but it wasn't where he expected.
In the West End, Jones and Thomas followed the noise. From their friend's balcony they'd heard the booms and seen the smoke rising over downtown like a winter haze. Jones had played Australian Rules Football as a kid in Melbourne and had been to plenty of rowdy games, but he'd never seen anything like this. It was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to witness something extraordinary, he told Thomas as they headed out into the twilight, toward the lights and the smoke.
Half a mile away, at the corner of Seymour and Robson in central Vancouver, Rai felt as if events were going from zero to 100 in about 45 seconds. Through his earpiece, he began getting reports from the Live Site. "We've got a fight." Then: "We've got another fight." Then someone calling "1033! 1033!" the code for officer down. Seconds later: "They're rocking a vehicle." Then: "The vehicle is tipped over and on fire."
Typically, riots begin in a centralized location. In political or race riots, participants often assemble in or break from a single spot. What troubled Rai was that this riot appeared to have multiple flashpoints, some as much as a mile away from the arena.