by Brian Beitz
In sports, for any team or individual, there are always highs and lows. For those of us who follow and root for a specific team, those highs and lows are experienced vicariously and empathetically. We feel elation after each win and grief after each loss, and those feelings are multiplied greatly by the deemed importance of the match or event. Heading into the 2012 playoffs, after the Canucks came so close to the ultimate prize in 2011, there has never been as much importance placed on a series of Canucks game, in my experience. I honestly believe that there is more pressure on the players now than in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Bruins. Last year, nothing short of a length playoff run would have been acceptable to the organization and its followers. This year, nothing short of a Stanley Cup will be tolerated.
With that said, it should come as no surprise that Wednesday night’s game at Rogers Arena, at which I was in attendance, made me sad. The Canucks lost 4-2 after what appeared to be a disjointed, lacklustre affair, ending a long streak of impressive Game-1 performances, and effectively derailing the fanbase’s overly optimistic season-long argument: “They’re just saving themselves for the playoffs.” Um, guys? You know the playoffs have started now, right? But while I felt a low when the game was lost, my sadness came from a very different source.
You see, what made me sad last night wasn’t the Canucks at all. It was the fans.
That’s right. It wasn’t the disappointing performance by the Canucks.
- It wasn’t the fact that I spent $165 for a ticket, $30 for ferry rides, and $8 for a beer (reasonable, compared to the beer at the Tampa Bay Lightning arena) to see my team falter.
- It wasn’t the empty seats in front of mine, despite the announcement of yet another sell-out crowd (thanks for the free towels, unsuccessful scalper).
- It wasn’t that people were lined up for a picture with the President’s Trophy outside the arena (Her?).
- It wasn’t the fact that Ryan Kesler decided to forget about hockey and focus on his second favourite Olympic sport.
- It wasn’t that I found out the PhD line of Pahlsson/Higgins/Hansen didn’t mean what I thought it meant, but rather “Pretty Huge Disappointment.”
- It wasn’t that I was in the bathroom for the Canucks second goal, effectively taking all the fun out of each high five I received.
- And it wasn’t that the refs started frivolously handing out 2-minute penalties for “being strong.”
From the moment I sat down in my seat, I noticed that there was a nervous energy in the arena. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who decided that all future happiness would be contingent on winning that game. When the puck dropped, the crowd was great. Fans were as loud as I’ve ever heard at a Canucks game, and they exploded when Booth started the game off with a big hit on Drew “Pouty” Doughty. The fun continued when Burrows slammed home a rebound from the slot to give the Canucks an early lead. People cheered; towels were waived; fives were highed. Everything was going really well with the fans because, well, everything was going really well. But then adversity struck.
As the game progressed and the Kings’ shot number climbed upward faster than my cholesterol when Wendy’s brought out the Baconnator, the crowd started to get a little restless. Whenever the Canucks struggled to exit their zone, jeers were heard. After the Kings scored their second goal with a few minutes remaining in the second period, the arena went silent. The chants of “Go Canucks Go!” became as forced and insincere as my parents’ weekly date night. It was as if people couldn’t hear Fin’s drum!
A late goal in the 2nd temporarily bolstered the crowd, but that dissipated in the 3rd when any offensive pressure from the Kings saw shouts rained down on the Canucks. Finally, when Dustin “Pancakes” Penner scored a goal off a lucky bounce in the 3rd, I watched in disbelief as people began to filter out of the arena. By the time there was a 30 seconds left, people were leaving in droves. I’ll repeat that. With 3 minutes left in a playoff game, and the home team—who rather famously scored a goal with 13 seconds left in a playoff game—down by one goal, the crowd was leaving. If ever there was a time to show your team that you believe in them, that was it.
This proved to be the second most shocking thing that occurred that night. As the Kings scored an empty-net goal, a nearby fan threw his novelty-sized beer-holding hockey glove (an obvious rip-off of the novelty-sized Incredible Hulk gloves) toward the ice, screaming, “We should’ve started F$%#-ing Schneider!” This was followed by a number of fans launching their beer cups onto the ice. When the final buzzer sounded, nobody cheered the team, nobody encouraged the Canucks to “get ‘em next time!”
Have we, as a fanbase, become so entitled that we feel losing one game of the playoffs is unacceptable? Scratch that, a personal slight against each and every one of us? I understand that there is some angst associated with last year’s run, but I looked at the faces around me, and I can tell you that some fans would have been less offended if Henrik Sedin had walked in their front door and poo’d on their favourite chair. I left that game feeling terrible not because of the team’s effort (which, let’s face it, wasn’t great) but because of the effort of those watching the game.
I won’t sit here and say that I don’t have my share of outrage during an NHL game as well, or that I wasn’t disheartened by the Canucks’ play Wednesday night. I do and I was. But we expect something amazing from this team each and every year; we expect for our team to go out there and bring home the Stanley Cup, the most difficult trophy to win in all of sports. And the closer they get, the more punishment we give them for each little mistake. It’d be like Mickey kicking Rocky in the groin when he couldn’t quite make it up the steps. We want the Canucks to feel elation when they reach that top step, not relief that they won’t get a groin shot for once.
The general feeling seems to be that the Canucks owe us, their fans, something for all the years we’ve
supported followed them. And maybe they do. But we owe them something too. Being a Canucks fan is a religion: complete faith in the absence of substantial proof (like the proof Calgary fans have been showing us since 1989). So let’s show a little faith in our team these playoffs. Cheer them on. Give them the carrot instead of the stick. We’ve seen our team reach game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, so let’s act like we’ve been somewhere.
Let other fans worry about one-game deficits, and let’s watch our team go get us some proof.