You must remember this: Amid the chaos of the rioting after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, a young couple, captured in a moment of intimacy. Here is how fate and chance converged on the streets of Vancouver to create the most compelling sports image of the year—and what the mayhem of that night says about the nature of modern fandom
When the first police car erupted in flames in downtown Vancouver on Wednesday, June 15, not long before the first pylon crashed through a department store window and shortly after the first bloody brawl broke out, photographer Rich Lam was perched above the ice of Rogers Arena, firing off as many as six frames a second during the third period of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. At the same time, mechanical engineer Josh Evans, wearing a Canucks jersey, was sipping a vodka and water at a packed sports bar a mile from the stadium; Vancouver police inspector Steve Rai was racing to don riot gear downtown as rocks whizzed through the air; Australian barista Scott Jones and his girlfriend, Alex Thomas, were preparing to leave a friend's apartment to check out the commotion; sociology professor Robert Carrothers was at home in northern Ohio, calling up TV feeds on the internet; and Bruins winger Milan Lucic was on the bench during a penalty kill, trying to control his breathing.
By the end of the night the city would suffer millions of dollars in damage and more than 150 people would be injured in one of the worst riots in the history of North American sports. Of the seven people mentioned, one would end up in jail, two would become famous around the world, and all would have their lives changed in some way, small or large, by the events of the evening—events that led to an overwhelming sense of civic shame, questions about the nature of sports fandom and, in the end, one indelible image.
Lam had awoken at 4:45 that morning and hurried through the darkness to his car so he could pick up two photo editors and arrive at Rogers Arena by 5:30 a.m. to set up the overhead camera remotes. A 36-year-old Vancouver native freelancing for Getty, Lam had photographed 12 playoff games so far, shooting the action as the Canucks dispatched the Blackhawks, Predators and Sharks before entering the finals as favorites against the Bruins. With each game the photographer had seen enthusiasm in Vancouver grow until, during Game 6 of the finals, it morphed into something different—something darker—as the crowds downtown swelled to 85,000. Now, with a hockey-crazed city on the brink of its first NHL championship, Lam had an ominous feeling. When a friend said he would head into the city with his kids for the Game 7 viewing party near Rogers Arena, Lam interrupted him: "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
As he drove over the Cambie Street Bridge on an unseasonably warm morning, Lam surveyed the city at first light. In many respects downtown Vancouver is an urban paradise, with a temperate climate, abundant recreation and a bustling center set amid spectacular natural beauty. It is also situated on a peninsula, surrounded by Vancouver Harbor and English Bay and connected to the rest of the city by only a handful of major arteries, one of which is Georgia Street—the same street officials planned to shut down at noon to accommodate the 100,000 fans expected to descend upon the city.
Lam was relieved to be getting in early. Once all those people were downtown, it would be difficult for anyone to get in—or out.
Just before noon, Police Inspector Rai sat at his kitchen table, finishing an early lunch and watching hockey highlights on TV. Tall, handsome and in his mid-40s, Rai is a lifelong Canucks fan with one household rule: When Daddy watches hockey, he prefers to do so alone. Rai had set his DVR for the night, having drawn duty during Game 7.
On game nights Rai, a 21-year veteran of the force, serves as a public order officer. If anything were to happen, he would be the tactical commander for much of downtown, including the Live Site on Georgia Street, where three giant flat screens were being set up for the viewing party. Not that he was worried. So far the Stanley Cup playoffs had gone as smoothly as the 2010 Winter Olympics, during which 150,000 people arrived downtown each day, mostly without incident. Over the previous two months Rai had worked 23 Canucks games, and his biggest problem often had been a sore right hand from the high fives friendly fans gave him. One evening the crowd had broken into a chant—"VPD! VPD! VPD!"—as he and his crew strolled the streets.
Rai felt confident. He figured he'd walk the perimeter, chat with fans and quiet a few rowdy drunks. If he was lucky he'd be home in front of the TV by 11 p.m.
At 2:50 p.m., Lucic, a 6'4", 220-pound leftwinger, stepped off the Bruins' bus and entered Rogers Arena, surrounded by a police escort. Already, 2½ hours before the 5:20 face-off, fans were milling about—young, overwhelmingly male fans, with faces painted blue-and-green and Canucks logos shaved in their hair. Many had been drinking for hours. Not that any of this surprised Lucic.