June 15, 2011 feels like it happened yesterday. So many vivid memories. I hadn’t planned on writing about it, but my boy Irf inspired me with his memoirs. And since I’m writing these blogs, better late than never.
Usually I go home between pre-game skates and the game, but not on this day. There was no way I was going to try to risk driving back in town with the huge crowds that we knew would be on their way.
The Canucks held a morning skate, trying to stay in their routine. In the media availability after they were trying to be a “matter of fact” about the game – not really wanting to acknowledge it was the biggest game of their lives. After the skate I went into the CTV studios. The place was packed with producers, both local and national, as we were getting set to plan the parade coverage. Many of them had recently worked on our Olympic coverage. I think myself and Perry Solkowski were going to be a part of CTV/TSNs coverage on a couple of the planned boats in the parade. It felt like a bad omen, but you have to prepare. From there I remember going to the Sutton Place Hotel for the mid-day meal the league served and eventually made my way back to the rink a couple of hours before puck dropped and downtown was packed on another beautiful Vancouver day. There were PSAs on TV and radio all day, asking people to behave responsibly, win or lose. I remember thinking this felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
During the finals, with all of the media in attendance, the local electronic media types got put into one of the suites in the corner of the 500 level. I remember sitting next to the Dean, Barry MacDonald. We both talked about how our lives would never be the same in around 5 hours. Not to over dramatize it – win or lose, we would all still have our families and our jobs. But we would either spend the next decade talking about the greatest moment in Vancouver sports history, or a disappointment for the ages. We had both covered the 94 run. These are unforgettable moments for all of us, not just the players. Earlier in the day, Murph did an interview with Henrik, who joked with him beforehand, “Next January when we're in Columbus, don’t ask me if it’s a big game, ok?”
Really from the opening puck drop it felt like the Canucks had nothing left. They had barely any energy and the crowd could feel it. You could cut the tension with a knife in the building that night. Maybe the team needed the fans to give them some energy, I doubt it would have made a difference, but it wasn’t happening.
It seemed like a completely different building than it was after game 2. What I remember most after that one was after Burrows scored the winner in overtime, the building was shaking as my colleague John Lu and I raced down the stairs to level one, and on the way he said to me, “You realize your city is going to win the Stanley Cup right? And you’re going to cover the parade!”
Well it didn’t turn out that way. In game 4, Aaron Rome hammered Nathan Horton and the series changed forever. I still think the 4 game suspension Rome received was an absolute embarrassment of a decision for a league that in my opinion has made a habit of them.
Game six was the one I really thought the Canucks would win. Even with Mason Raymond getting seriously hurt right off the bat, I truly thought Vancouver played great in the first 5 minutes, but Marchand scored out of nowhere and then the roof fell in. And we all remember Marchand on Daniel late in the game.
Back to game 7… The shot totals in that game didn’t tell the story. If the Canucks had 37, I’m not sure there were many high danger scoring chances among them. We knew the injury and surgery list that was coming: Hamuis, Malhotra, Samuelsson, Raymond, Kesler, Ehrhoff, Salo. Some played and weren’t the same, while some couldn’t play at all. They say the Stanley Cup playoffs are a war of attrition.
When the game ended, it was easy to flip the switch with the celebration on the ice. I started covering the Stanley Cup finals in 2003, so I knew the routine. The celebrations on the ice are always fun, seeing players achieve a lifelong dream, this was no different, except it was in my home building. After a while I made my way to the Canucks dressing room which was virtually empty. Daniel and Henrik were still there, doing an endless scrum, being the pros they always were. Eventually Luongo came out. Kesler briefly came and went. There was plenty of emotion, as you’d expect.
As impartial as we all attempt to be, there is no doubt that when you cover a team for a full season you build relationships with the players. You get to know them beyond the game and in most cases you develop an affinity for them. I always shake my head hearing from those outside Vancouver about what an awful group of human beings that team was and how they were so easy to hate. A completely ridiculous take. Just an easy narrative because the notion of “Canada’s team” is pure fiction. This just made it convenient for the rest of the country to jump off the bandwagon.
For me, I don’t believe I’m a homer, in the sense that I want the “Vancouver Canucks to win a Stanley Cup.” But I do want the city of Vancouver to know what it feels like to celebrate a Stanley Cup win. I grew up here. It’s the greatest city in the world. And I hope before I’m done in this business that I get to cover one of these parades in my home city. Anyone in our business who says they don’t is a liar. That said, when the team struggles I have no problems covering them objectively. And right now this team seems so far away from what it was 10 years ago, that I have my doubts I’ll ever get to cover them winning it all. Maybe before I die?
And speaking of celebration, when I was done in the Canucks room I went down the hall towards the media room. And that’s when I heard that another riot might be happening. Surely to God there was no way this was happening again?! I saw a monitor and on it was a locked off version of a shot from CBC that was high above their building near the rink. It didn’t seem that bad: a large crowd, a minor scuffle, nothing excessive. So I responded to an email from our TSN Hockey group essentially saying, “there’s nothing to see here.” I just refused to believe that my city would do this again. I then got a response from Ray Ferarro, essentially saying, “What are you, an idiot?! This is really bad!”
So I got into the media room and saw a whole different set of monitors, and Ray was right, it was really bad. I felt like the Iraqi information minister during Desert Storm trying to deny the whole thing. Needless to say, I wasn’t going anywhere, so we all provided more coverage from the bowels of the arena. The players were also sequestered there for a while with their families and we were all there trying to make sense of it. Eventually I was able to get out of the building and drive home without much fuss and get back to my family. At home I watched more riot coverage, still in disbelief that it was happening again in my city.
That playoff run was one heck of a ride. Two months of non-stop travel and coverage. No days off, and if TSN wanted to give me one I didn’t want it. We were all just going on adrenaline. But I still can’t imagine what these players go through during those two months. The day after, instead of covering a parade, I went to cover the clean up in downtown. Not the way any of us expected it to end. If the Olympic Gold medal hockey celebration in 2010 was a celebration for the ages, this one would have put that one to shame. Instead 10 years later, we tell a much different story.