Kennewick, Washington, 1978. Nine year old boy sits in front of television after school. Homework has not been started. Hockey. What is this, and why has everyone been hiding this from me. Why has no one showed me this spectacular game. I fell in love.
I placed my new-found admiration in the hope of the New York Rangers. That first year was magical. The Maloney brothers and John Davidson tending goal. They beat their rival New York Islanders and went to the Stanley Cup finals facing the sports most prestigious franchise, the Montreal Canadiens. They lost the cup in five games, but firmly planted a puck of sporting excitement and wonder forever in my brain.
Love was a game played on ice. You could see the people, their colorful jerseys and flowing hair, but barely ever see the object of their desire. A black round spec. A puck. Phil Esposito and Ron Duguay skated like Gods of flowing hair. They turned out to be the heroes of an end to the no helmet generation. The crush of Mark Messier, and the modern-day bone crunching forecheckers was fast approaching.
Like knowing your “A,B,C’s” I knew my Adams, Patrick, Smythe and Norris of the NHL. Today, they use dumbed down compass directions as the names of divisions. Wimps. I also knew the playoff habs, and hab-not teams of that era. The Canadiens, Islanders, Oilers, and Flames held the cup. The Nordiques, Whalers, Jets, and Blues were some of the have-nots. Everyone prayed for the North Stars, but ultimately as some sports stories go, they sadly faded away.
Before that era skated away for good, one unique star, a little known, unassuming, and nonetheless skilled player, Stan Smyl led Vancouver to the 1982 Stanley Cup finals. He led a Vancouver team that captured my sporting heart. They were unassuming. No big names, even for the time. Their success rode in large part to the brilliant saves of Richard Brodeur. When a hockey goaltender is at his best, not allowing anything in net, he is said to be “standing on his head”. For me, Richard Brodeur was the first goaltender I saw do that. His long reaching kick-saves were dazzling to the eye. Vancouver was ultimately crushed by Brodeur’s rival Billy Smith for the New York Islanders. The series ended quickly with New York lifting the cup at the end of four short games in a best-of-seven series.
Every now and then an unexpected champion happens. Not for being packed full of LA Laker stars, or Michael Jordan greatness, but because they are simple, unassuming, and hard-working. Not the greatest, just consistent, dedicated, and highly self-motivated. They go about their sporting business, like you and I go about our daily routine tasks at work.
This is a common trait among many Vancouver Canucks teams. The names don’t roll off the tongue, but the passionate effort of the players is never forgotten on the city and its fans who hosted them. This is Vancouver. This is their team. Unassuming, hard-working, dedicated, and highly self-motivated. Always a fun team to watch. Always a great city to visit.
Usually the Canucks of the sporting world aren’t sexy enough to make the finals of their respective sports and win. Last year, this Vancouver Canucks went to game seven of the semi-finals against eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. They have retained every last moment of that bitter disappointment and learned how to apply it to their current season. Possibly the greatest in their history. Only sitting one game from hoisting the 2011 Stanley Cup.
Wouldn’t it be great to see people celebrate in a city that hasn’t seen the Stanley Cup since 1922. A city not part of celebrating sporting championships on a regular basis. I mean, take nothing away from this wonderful Boston Bruins team. But between, Celtic, Red Sox, and Patriot championships, they are a sporting warehouse of trophies. It would be unique and special for Vancouver to hang one decorative ornament on its city door. A friendly reminder to passers-by of the friendly sporting nature of Vancouver’s quality inhabitants. Unassuming, hard-working, dedicated, and passionate. A people and a city down right deserving of a historic drink from the most recognizable championship trophy, the Stanley Cup.