Born and raised in Montreal and having lived for 12 years in Toronto, you might think I would be a die-hard Habs or Leafs fan. Think again.
Back in the day the Habs won too often (and it wasn't entirely fair with preferential rules that allowed them to build up the amazing farm system and stock of young talent from which Sam Pollock engineered so many championships) and the Leafs had already started into what has been 43 years of boring, disappointing hockey (not to mention the most boring uniform in professional sports).
Being a proud Canadian, however, I wanted to cheer for a Canadian team... enter the Canucks!
I endured the early success of the Buffalo Sabres who brought the storied French Connection line to the ice in the 70s, while Vancouver had Jocelyn Gouvernment (the "French Bobby Orr" --- NOT) and what would become known as the goaltender graveyard. While Buffalo went to 6 games in a thriling final in 1975, the Canucks continued to wallow near the bottom of the league.
In 1982 the Canucks accidentally stumbled into the Stanley Cup Finals (having had a losing season and having beaten only teams that also had a losing season en route the their appointment with destiny and a spanking from the New York Islanders dynasty --- man those words sound funny now!). I learned to hate Billy Smith for his last minute brutal attack on classy Stan Smyl, high-sticking him in the face even though Smyl was just innocently skating by as the play moved up ice towards the Vancouver zone, in the final game with Cup already decided. Had I been the Canucks coach I would have counselled criminal actions to my players in the moment!
Twelve more years of mediocrity followed, though the early 1990s had some promise. It seemed that promise was waning when the 1993-94 Canucks again stumbled into the finals. This time they had a winning record in the regular season, though just barely (they remain the only team ever to win and lose 40 or more games in the same season, winning 41 and losing 40 with 3 ties in an 84 games schedule). Despite finishing in 8th place in the West, they made it to the finals against Mark Messier's Rangers. The 7 game classic was one to remember, and many pundits still cite it as one of the best finals in history. But, again, the Canucks lost.
Mark Messier would rub salt into the wound and sign on the with Vancouver only to have the worst years of his storied career while wearing the killer whale. This was the era of top of the league salaries for Vancouver while missing the playoffs... Mike Keenan almost had me switching allegiance.
Brian Burke arrived and saved the day. He took Vancouver from top level salary to middle of the league while also taking them from also-ran to contender with Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison. He arranged the draft day miracle that brought the WonderTwins into the fold, a move that is still paying huge dividends to this day. In thanks, Canucks management fired him!!
Now we have a team poised for greatness. They have the Art Ross and Hart trophies defending champion and his twin brother still in their prime. They have the runner-up to the Selke trophy just entering his prime. They have the Olympic gold medal champion goaltender (who took a lot of grief and criticism despite outplaying tournament MVP Ryan Miller in the deciding game). They have a lot of depth of scoring and on defense and some impressive young talent coming down the pipeline.
Will the Canucks win the Stanley Cup in 2010-2011? Who knows? What we do know is that there are no guarantees in hockey. The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win, the playoffs being an enormous grind that takes more than mere talent to survive. But the Canucks have all this talent locked up for years to come and they are almost certain to have a few kicks at the can.
It is an exciting time to be a Canucklehead. From my post here in Central Canada, this one will be staying up late to watch the excitement and showing up for work bleary eyed and happy... at least when the good guys win.