Riots overshadow Canucks fans' Game 7 heartbreak

June 16, 2011 - 7:26 PM
Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots

People write messages on plywood covering the windows of the damaged Hudson's Bay Company store in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday June 16, 2011, after the store was damaged and looted by rioters following the Vancouver Canucks loss to the Boston Bruins in the NHL's Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The plywood sheets filling in for shattered windows on the historic Hudson's Bay Co. department store Thursday were turned into a canvas for expressing a city's embarrassment.

On a spectacularly sunny day after a dreary, disturbing night in Vancouver, hundreds inscribed messages and drew pictures on the wood. It was a form of group therapy for a city recovering from extensive rioting after the Canucks' blowout loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Some messages were hockey-centric: "So Proud of Our Boys." ''Real Fans Don't Riot." ''We'll Get 'Em Next Year."

Others were pure apology: "On behalf of my team and my city, I'm sorry."

Overturned cars, raging bonfires, hospitalized fans and hooliganism are likely to be the lingering memory of the Canucks' agonizing failure on the precipice of their first Stanley Cup title.

And that's a shame. Vancouver's citywide pain after the Canucks' 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins already was heartbreaking enough without the ugliness that followed.

A year after Vancouver hosted a successful Winter Olympics, this gorgeous, cosmopolitan city on the Pacific coast was ever so close to a championship it desired perhaps even more than those gold medals won by the Canadian hockey team on the Canucks' rink in February 2010.

Vancouver was eager to see the Stanley Cup in Stanley Park, the green-and-blue oasis just off downtown. Both are named after Lord Frederick Stanley, the former Governor General of Canada who donated the iconic trophy in 1892 — and whose statue in Vancouver's park wore a Canucks jersey and held a replica Cup and a hockey stick during the playoff run.

Not counting the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires, whose names are inscribed inside the bowl for winning the Stanley Cup before the NHL existed, a Vancouver team has never really won anything much bigger than the B.C. Lions' five CFL Grey Cups.

Boston ended its 39-year Stanley Cup drought on Vancouver's ice.

The Canucks are at 41 years without a championship after their Game 7 flop.

"I think it would probably mean even more than the Olympics," said Dan Hamhuis, the Vancouver defenseman and British Columbia native who missed the series' final six games with an injury. "I don't know how you compare the two, but the Olympics are a two-week tournament. The Canucks are part of people's everyday lives in B.C. and Vancouver. We're proud to represent this part of the world."

Vancouver was the NHL's best regular season team by far, racking up a franchise-record 54 victories and 117 points while winning the Presidents' Trophy. The Canucks led the league in goals scored (262), fewest goals allowed (185) and power-play efficiency (24.3 percent), and were second in penalty-killing success (85.6 percent).

Vancouver has the NHL's past two scoring champions, supremely smooth Swedes Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who also are likely to win consecutive Hart trophies as the league's MVPs next week. The Canucks also have the NHL's winningest goalie, Olympic hero Roberto Luongo, behind the NHL's deepest group of defensemen.

How could the Canucks lose?

In spectacular fashion, as it turned out.

After Vancouver reached its first finals in 17 years, the Canucks beat Boston in the first two games, spurring talk about parade routes and parties. Vancouver then lost four of the next five games in blowouts, becoming just the third team since 1966 to blow a 2-0 lead in the finals. Game 7 was barely competitive, with Boston goalie Tim Thomas easily turning away 37 mostly punchless shots while the confident Bruins simply outworked the nervous Canucks.

So while Boston planned yet another celebration, Vancouver quietly suffered — and a few hundred criminals went to work.

Only three NHL teams have longer championship droughts: Los Angeles and St. Louis have never won the Cup in 44 years, and Toronto also hasn't won since 1967. Vancouver's drought is matched by the Buffalo Sabres, its expansion partner in 1970.

Fans older than most of Wednesday's rioters still remember the violence that followed Vancouver's Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the 1994 finals — more than $1 million in damage, roughly 200 injuries and similar vandalism.

Yet the Canucks still unite a culturally diverse city with fans of every age and ethnicity. Canucks car flags are as ubiquitous as Lakers flags in Los Angeles — and until the rioting, the downtown fan gatherings for every Canucks playoff game were peaceful celebrations.

"We know what this team means to this city, because we're all part of this community," captain Henrik Sedin said. "We're proud to live here, to be part of it. My kids are Canadian. This is their home, and it's mine now."

The Canucks have sold out every game and made fans across the world with a flair that's not limited to their striking blue-and-green jerseys. The team plays aggressive, entertaining hockey in a league still battling trap defenses and dominant goalies, who drive away casual fans with their monotonous success.

And then a dominant goalie shut out the Canucks in Game 7.

While the exhausted Canucks drove home to their posh Yaletown apartments and large suburban houses, the downtown riot raged. By dawn, Vancouver had largely put itself back together.

Volunteer cleanup crews aggressively reversed the riot damage, and glaziers had already replaced windows on the Toronto Dominion Tower.

Vancouverites gathered in outdoor cafes and walked the streets in tank tops. A chalk artist drew large peace signs on the Granville Street sidewalk near the riots' epicenter.

The Canucks are likely to be contenders again next season. This cool Canadian city and its flashy team will be back.