Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Weird World of Vancouver Canucks Fans

Vancouver Canucks fans are about to get their first NHL Stanley Cup playoff games in nine seasons. The team has a chance at 50 wins for the first time since 2011-12. They are odds-on favourites for at least two major awards and will have a nominee in at least one more. And the feeling is endless anxiety!

Wait, what?

Nothing Comes Easy For Fans of the Vancouver Canucks

Don’t get us wrong here, we know perfectly well Vancouverites love their team. It takes a devoted bunch to stick with a team that delivers mostly heartbreak. They’re more often the Plucky Underdog than the Expected Champion, certainly. But they’ve proven they can lose the big game in either condition. They are the only team to have lost two Stanley Cup Final Game Sevens since they entered the league. Their first trip to the final was a mercifully brief sweep, though tremendous fun to get there.

That was also the only one there wasn’t a riot after so that counts for something. A lack of planning time, perhaps. Still, that’s all in the past. There is a whole new team looking to make some noise in the NHL’s second season. Not favourites, fine, but still in the mix. So why is there a running current of discontent?

Variety is Good For You

With apologies to the BC Lions, the Whitecaps, and the High-A League Canadians, Vancouver belongs to the Canucks. That doesn’t mean Vancouver Canucks fans ONLY support hockey, of course! But other leagues plan their schedules with one eye on the NHL for a reason.

There is a certain fatalism that’s born in a place where it can rain for 40 days in a row. That makes the repeated failures of a beloved hockey team a bit easier to take. The ocean may be blue and the forests green, but the most common colour here is grey skies.

The colours here are amazing – and the Canucks are pushing for their third-ever 50-win season. That’s great, and will certainly help their lifetime .424 win percentage. But every fan also has, in the back of their mind, the certainty that this isn’t “normal”. And it’s got them a little on edge.

The sweeter the dream, the more it hurts to wake up. It’s quite difficult to admit you like something unironically. That’s how we end up with a slew of fans just itching to be the first to scream “I TOLD YOU SO!” whenever the Canucks’ season ends. They may not like grey, but they’re used to it. It’s comfy. It’s also pretty dull.

Fly the Colours

One of the best parts of being a fan of an expansion team, any league, any sport, is traditions. You don’t have any. You’re finding them as you go, and they’re going to happen all on their own. Owners can’t force the issue, and it’s obvious when they try. It’s worth noting who has a statue outside the Canucks’ home rink. There are two: a surly defenceman who joined the inaugural team, and a coach who led them for all of 154 games, regular season and playoffs. What the heck? Why these guys?

Pat Quinn, the defenceman, wasn’t honoured because of his on-ice prowess. He came to the team as a general manager in 1987, dragging them to their second Stanley Cup Final in 1994 and respectability. It took becoming the team’s coach as well as manager to do it, but he got them there, however briefly.

The other is harder to explain. Short version: Harry Neale, coach of the Canucks in 1981-82, decided to go to a player’s defence after a fan tried attacking Dave “Tiger” Williams. Neale was suspended for ten games and handed the reins over to Roger Neilsen.

Neilsen went 4-0-1 in the regular season, swept the Calgary Flames in three straight, then beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1. Neale knew enough to stay out of the way of a good story, and Neilsen kept his spot even after the suspension was over.

In the Conference Finals against the Chicago Black Hawks, the team thought the refereeing was unfair. That Vancouver was also down 3-1 at the time may have exacerbated the opinion. Another call went against them, and Neilsen decided to “surrender” to the referees. He put a towel on a stick.

For Neilsen, famous for his politeness, this was throwing dynamite on the ice. The team and Vancouver Canucks fans rallied around him, and they went to their first Stanley Cup Final in team history.

What Vancouver Canucks Fans Want

Neilsen had his statue put in place in April of 2011 – just in time for Vancouver’s third Stanley Cup Final run. Quinn’s was unveiled in February of 2017, early in their latest stretch of mediocrity. Should we expect a statue of Alain Vigneault sometime soon, then?

No. Because it’s not success that the statues commemorate. The two men didn’t win the Stanley Cup. What they did provide was a rallying cry. “We’re not supposed to be here? Too bad, we are anyway.” Quinn’s team finished the season 41-40-3, barely over .500. Neilsen’s was 30-33-17.

The most skilled players in Canucks history are respected plenty. Somehow, though, they remain more respected than loved. Roberto Luongo is arguably the best player Vancouver has ever had, certainly in the top three. But memories of Kirk McLean may have stopped his jersey from being retired here.

Retiring the number of Pavel Bure, another Hall of Fame player, was likewise controversial. Not because of his skill, but because of how he left the team. Some people hated his supposed “turning his back” on Vancouver.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin put on a show that caught the attention of the entire league. Respected? Absolutely! Loved? Sure, by some. But the most popular player during their run may have been agitating linemate Alexandre Burrows. And that story repeats itself over and over.

Who was the most popular player among Vancouver Canucks fans around their 1982 run? Tough defenceman Harold Snepts handily beats out leading scorer Tomas Gradin.

Around the 1994 Final run, the most popular player probably wasn’t Pavel Bure, though he was the best. Ask now, and it was Captain Canuck Trevor Linden or Bure’s best friend on the team the “Algonquin Enforcer” Gino Odjick.

The Bottom Line

This season, this completely unexpected, highlight-reel of a season, has highlighted the difference between who is liked and who is loved. And that ties into what the fans expect.

The most skilled forward Vancouver has is Elias Pettersson. His numbers have slipped a little of late, but even at his best, the call-in shows covered what? How he hadn’t signed a long-term deal. And now that he has, it’s what a bad week the 34-goal, 88-point 25-year-old has had.

At the same time, Conor Garland is having his name chanted by appreciative fans. Linemate Dakota Joshua is mentioned as one of the irreplaceable free agents the team must sign this offseason.

But that suits them. They cheer the skill players and all they bring, sure. But they WANT to cheer for the third-line player who can shut opponents down while working the boards. Quinn Hughes‘ calm grace is amazing to watch, but the utter chaos Nils Höglander brings is gold.

Yes, Vancouver Canucks fans want to win the Stanley Cup, of course they do. Fifty-three years without drives a fanbase to look for other things to fall in love with. Without the win, they’ll love the effort, the grind. Without the win, they’ll take the passion.

The chaotic fans of a chaotic team, with the jersey colours to match, honour a bronze statue of a white towel. Win or lose, they’re going to make it a wild ride.

Main photo: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports



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