With a week off to heal our D (again. Anyone working for the Canucks pushing to make 6-day breaks 10 games in part of the permanent schedule?), I thought I'd toss one of these into the mix while we wait. Bit of a shame were not playing the New Jersey Devils on Hallowe'en, but I suppose All Hallows Day can be appropriate, too...1) Paul Minvielle.
I had always known that the Vancouver Canucks were the "local" hockey team, but they were all the way across the water and in the city: why on Earth would I bother caring about them? Sure, I watched the games, but it's not like I was a huge fan of the Canucks specifically: any game was worth watching. Add to that the Canucks simply not being very good - heck, the last time they were in the playoffs, they were obliterated by the Edmonton Oilers in three straight, getting outscored 20-5 in the process! - and there just wasn't much reason to root for them.
Out where we lived, I was fortunate enough to have a television and parents who were bad enough with money to consider a cable package a necessary expense. As such, our neighbour and his family would come over to watch the playoffs in 1988-1989. A far bigger fan than anyone in my family, and French Canadian to boot, hearing Mr. Minvielle hoot, holler and groan with the fate of the team in Black and Gold was a sea change to me. In fact, my first vivid memories of any hockey game was seeing Stan Smyl skating in alone on Mike Vernon, snapping a shot that was stopped, and Paul groaning, leaning back on the couch, and saying "Imagine if that was the new kid, Linden, going in with that chance?"
I know this will send some folks into conniptions, but I'm also a fan of the Flames. That's right, the Calgary Flames. Why? That series in 1988-89 is one reason; others are the series from 82-83 and the one in 83-84, all losses. But there were also the playoffs in 1981-82 and 93-94. The Flames were always a team to get up for, especially when the Second Season rolled around. Your enemies are what make you - be sure to thank them, and hope that they are strong. I could see much the same happening with the Chicago Blackhawks now. Plus, Calgary's the team about whose Cup win Paul said "At least it didn't go to those Eastern Bastards". So you know that was a while ago!
Bettman thought (and perhaps still thinks) changing the regular season schedule would create rivalries: he is, of course, wrong. It's all about the playoffs, and always has been.
3) The Chicago Cubs.
There was a pin I saw some years ago with the Cubs logo, and it read: "If it takes forever". Listen: in their first 20 years of life, the Canucks had two (2) seasons above .500, and one of those was by a single point. The eleven times they did make the playoffs, they got out of the first round exactly once. The Canucks were a bad team, and they were a bad team for a long time. Sticking with them when there are so many far better teams that a fan could choose was a point of pride: they would turn it around, and I'd be there when they did, damn it! The bragging rights of fandom are come by honestly with losing teams: no casual fan drifts from a perennial contender to a bottom-dweller unless they move cities.
Loving a losing team is a special kind of masochism that's like the first time you get punched in a street fight: you're scared of it until it happens, then a switch gets flipped, and you say "Bet you can't do that again" and dive right back in. Pain's just pain, and that's what you pay to win, and it makes wining that much more sweet.
The Flames again. I was a confirmed fan by this point, not just watching the team on television and listening to them on the radio, but studying the newspapers, buying reference books, watching old series on tape, learning their history. The team had improved, getting to the second round of the playoffs the previous two years (thanks, Winnipeg!), hitting record highs in regular season points, but this year wasn't so great, finishing seventh in the West and having to go against the second place Calgary. That the Canucks came back against the hated rivals with three straight overtime games, with game seven in
double triple overtime, would have made that season one of the most memorable in Vancouver's history all on its own: that they went to Game Seven of the finals only to come up a single goal short of a comeback there, well, you know the story. And that fact that you know the story says it all.
5) Collars, Blue and White
Let's face it, when your team has had almost 1000 more goals scored against it than for it in the first twenty years, you're not going to have a lot of retired jerseys. There were few artists in Vancouver's history (Tony Tanti and Petri Skriko excepted), so the adultation went to the grinders: the guys who worked for every inch of ice they got, and paid for every point. Stan "Steamer" Smyl. Harold Snepts. Tiger Williams. Garth Butcher. Then there's the goalies that defined the team for so long: "King Richard" Brodeur and "Captain Kirk" McLean. The former going on pure emotion and never-say-die attitude, and the latter one of the last stand-up goalies with pure ice water in his veins.
Then the artists came: the shocking brilliance of Pavel Bure; vision and finish of Markus Naslund; the smooth skating Jyrki Lumme. For a brief time, that was the way the Canucks went, trying to lead the attack and win by outscoring the opponent without great concern for play in their own end. It didn't work too well, as a four year stretch out of the playoffs and frequent first-round dismissals followed.
But now? If you don't put in the work in all three zones, you don't see the ice, and no part of play is considered less important than the others: the astounding skills of Henrik and Daniel includes their defensive ability; Ryan Kesler was best known for his ability to shut down opposing stars until he started putting up 25 goal seasons; and Vancouver's leading goal scorer from last year had nine of them short handed in his past two seasons.
...So that's them. There are other reasons, sure: the charity work, the playoff runs, the Linden. But they've been well covered (and covered well) by others here, so I tried avoiding them - though I couldn't resist the 1994 Cup run.