Last Friday, I went to see Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals – a match between the Vancover Canucks and the Boston Bruins. I had come all the way to Vancouver from New York, partly to see family but mostly to experience the cup run in the city. Traveling such a distance wasn’t so strange, apparently; the man behind me in the ticket line told me he had flown all the way from Melbourne Australia to be home for the finals.
The Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup. In 1994, an underdog Canucks team made it all the way to Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose to the New York Rangers. A small scale riot broke out; some people were shot with rubber bullets, some were tear-gassed.
In the intervening years Vancouver became the most expensive city in North America. The hockey team underwent several transformations. This year, the Canucks were picked to win the whole thing right from the outset.
Game 5 – which I attended for $675 CAD – was what people call a “nail biter.” We won 1-0 on a late goal. Within a half hour, there were something like 70,000 people on the streets. It was the city-wide celebration that seemed to be what I was here for, the community of it, everyone behind the same thing.
Intellectually, you’ll find there’s nothing really defensible about sports fandom, but for those without religion or community it provides an opportunity to get wild with other people. Vancouver is ethnically diverse, but everyone shares the Canucks. Indeed, during Game 5, the arena seemed less of a sporting venue than a mega-church. And on the streets afterwards, you could hardly move – it was a roiling, animal energy.
Winning that game meant we had two chances to win the Cup – Game 6 the following Monday, in Boston, and if we lost that, Game 7 in Vancouver, which would happen the following Wednesday. The general feeling was that we had it in the bag, finally – we’d finally take the Cup. It seemed like a sure thing; if we didn’t win Game 6, well then – we wouldn’t lose Game 7.
But come Monday, Boston beat us 5-2. And then, last night, in a do-or-die Game 7, we got blown out: we lost 4-0. The collective disappointment was both both massive and destructive, and what thereafter occurred in Vancouver was reported by the news media as a riot.
At the time, I was sitting on a grass knoll near the harbor with my friend – it was a beautiful night – overlooking hundreds of yachts. But as we walked through the city toward my friend’s apartment on the East Side, we began to come across blue smoke and the smell of burning tires. When we got back to the apartment, we watched the thick of it on TV: cars burning, people hanging off street lights, random couples on top of each other, in the middle of the road, making out. People were frustrated and it was coming out in strange ways. The 70pt headline on huffingtonpost.ca read “RAGE” (the story was invisible to readers of huffingtonpost.com). It lasted around three hours.
Afterwards, we walked through the city to survey the destruction. The scene was somewhat surreal; we took pictures of ourselves next to overturned, burned-out cars (how easy is it to light a car on fire? Is it easy?); we came across a pair of smoldering hummers in a parking lot. Almost every window in the downtown core was smashed. The Canucks were so close to their first Stanley Cup. In the city that night, the disappointment couldn’t have been more clear.