CONTRIBUTION · 25th April 2011
A disclaimer - I am doing my best to ensure that I do not have a tinfoil hat atop my head whilst I write this.
There seems to be a growing movement in the hockey world. Perhaps you've noticed it. Maybe you've heard whispers amongst fans, maybe you have friends talking about it on Facebook. Or maybe you've just watched the panels of experts talking on CBC, TSN or Sportsnet and have just paused for a moment to reflect on what they are really saying.
What I am talking about is the widespread hatrednot disdain or dislike, hatredof all things Vancouver Canuck.
It would seem from all appearances that 29 other teams and their respective fanbases are all chomping at the bit for the Vancouver Canucks to fall flat tomorrow and bow out to the Chicago Blackhawks for the third consecutive year. It would seem that this feat would supplant the joy of their team winning a Stanley Cup. I have seen many comments from fans of other teams stating something along the lines of how they would be happy to never win another Cup, so long as Vancouver never won.
Next you look at the media. Since the Chicago Blackhawks have started their comeback in this series, and even before, members of the media from all stripes have been lining up to crucify the Canucks for stepping so much as one toe out of line. Let us first observe CBC's Ron McLean, he of the noted character assassination of Alexandre Burrows the year before last. At every single opportunity he has been lambasting the Canuck players, noteably Raffi Torres, for their play. Accusing them of cheap shots, highlighting instances where a Canuck player has slashed a Blackhawk player and looking down on that Canuck with disdain. How dare a Canuck player slash a Blackhawk! Nevermind that a Blackhawk player did the exact same thing to a Canuck player several times over the course of the game. It is never mentioned. It is not a "fair and balanced" opinion. It is simply highlighting the negatives of all things Canuck. Russell Peters once said that the media has a very deceptive way of planting an image in our head. "They'll show an Asian person, and a car crash. 'Whaddya think?'"
So Ron McLean shows a Canuck player, and a Canuck player committing an infraction. "Whaddya think?"
McLean is certainly not alone, he is just one example of many. Fluff pieces are being run almost daily on the incredible feat the Blackhawks are on the precipice of achieving, and apparently, how noble their cause is. Duncan Keith hung the jersey of Blackhawks teammate Brent Seabrook in his stall when Seabrook was out of the lineup. Gosh, how noble. Keith was even praised for going running at Raffi Torres the next game--a play where he charged Torres(penalty), then threw an elbow at him(penalty), before slew footing Jannik Hansen in front of the net(penalty). The media's response to this instance where a player absolutely lost his cool and started attacking anyone within reach?
Praise. Inspiring. Clutch performance.
Mike Gillis went before the press today to talk about what he perceived to be an unbalanced playing field in the series. The numbers he went through certainly give you pause to think. The Blackhawks have had a stunning advantage in terms of the number of power play opportunities versus the Canucks. The Blackhawks hold a whopping 27-16 edge in terms of power plays awarded. More telling than that, when the series is close (i.e. - when the game is seperated by 1 or 2 goals) the Blackhawks have received 100% more than the Canucks have. of them.
Also consider that after Game 2, perhaps the last relatively balanced game in terms of officiating, the Blackhawks sent well respected scholar of the game Scotty Bowman to "discuss" the calling of the series to that point. The result? A dramatic slide in favour of the Blackhawks as far as opportunities with the man advantage went.
So Mike Gillis points this all out. What is the media's response? That this is a typical GM tactic to take pressure off of his players. That this is Mike Gillis trying to cover his rear in the event that the Canucks complete one of the biggest chokes in the history of the NHL. Nary a one has stopped to say "hang on, maybe he's onto something".
Now how does all of this impact the Canucks?
I am simply a fan of the game. I never played a lick of professional hockey in my life. I was a house player when I played minor league hockey, and I am a beer league player now. Any one on the Canucks, in the NHL, or the AHL, or the ECHL, or the Junior A leagues, the Junior B leagues, the Senior AAA or AA leagues, heck most of my beer league teammates...any of these people could probably take me to school on how to get yourself motivated for an important game.
But if I can stand on a soap box for a moment, I have absolutely no idea how anyone wearing blue and white tomorrow could hit the ice at Rogers Arena and play anything short of the greatest game of their lives.
Everyone in the world seems to be against them. The media, the fanbases, the league itself. The Blackhawks have already made them a laughing stock two years in a row, and are on the verge of making it a trifecta. Not only have the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks twice in a row, but they have done it in the most humiliating and degrading fashion possible. Blowouts, every time. On their ice and ours. They have reduced our all-world, Olympic Gold Medal winning goaltender to a punchline. "7uongo" is a beloved catch phrase on the internet.
This is their moment. This is the moment that every single player, coach and individual involved with the Canucks needs to stand up and show that they are champions. Not in the literal sense, but they need to show to themselves that they have the pride, the skill and above all, the will to win. They need to go out there and play like their very lives depend on it. They need to walk the walk.
I would be at an absolute loss for words if in front of the greatest adversity any of these players has ever faced, they came out and played with anything less than the greatest effort they have ever shown.
They need this. As Canuck fans, we desperately need this. This team has existed for 40 years and has never won a thing. Not the draft lottery that let us watch the great Gilbert Perreault skate off to our expansion cousin Buffalo, not in the two times the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, not a thing. Until this year. This was the first year that something wasn't just hoped for, it was almost expected. We have all-world players at every position. This is a team that can win. This is a team that has players who have won. Daniel and Henrik Sedin have an Olympic Gold Medal each to go along with their matching Art Ross Trophies; so does Roberto Luongo. Mikael Samuelsson has an Olympic Gold and a Stanley Cup. Ryan Kesler won a World Junior Gold and has twice been a Selke Trophy finalist.
The Canucks have players who can win. The Canucks have players who can play big.
So for the love of all things holy, Vancouver. Go out there tomorrow night on your ice, in front of your fans, in front of a TV audience filled with people that desire nothing more than to watch you fail against an opponent who has publicly called you a fraud and now defeated you three times to the joy of your detractors everywhere.
Go out there and play your bloody hearts out.