I am a hockey fan. As a fan of hockey, I make sure to watch the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals every year. Seeing people reach the pinnacle of their existence live on TV is a rarity. It’s like watching the end of a movie but the characters are raw & real. The shear victory of one side juxtaposed against the total despair of those who have tried their very best and failed. You get some real human moments out of these final NHL games.
40 year old Ray Bourque in 2001, crying and raising the Cup after giving so much to the sport for 23 years is a prime example. A 19 year old brat, Patrick Kane minutes after scoring the Cup winning goal telling Pierre Maguire ‘Not a chance’ when Maguire told him to behave himself in the upcoming celebration. This year it was Boston goalie Tim Thomas candidly declaring the win hadn’t yet sunk in and it felt like they were simply moving onto another round of playoff hockey.
As a fan of hockey, the thing that caught my eye this time around and supremely impressed me was the dignity of the Vancouver fans inside the arena. While the Canucks players stood in disbelief watching the Bruins celebrate and fans outside the Arena began smashing shop windows and burning cars, the fans inside the Arena put on a grand display of sportsmanship. As their team trailed 4-0 and the dream died, most fans rose to their feet and cheered as if they were the winning side.
They surely weren’t congratulating the game 7 effort, which was inadequate. What they were doing is saying “Thank You” to the team that entertained them this season with over 100 hockey games of the highest caliber. They were saying “Thank You” to The Sedin Twins for their dozens of spectacular goals; “Thank You” to Manny Malhotra for almost losing an eye trying to bring The Cup back to Canada. “Thank You” to goaltender Roberto Luongo for the love/hate relationship he and fans shared. “Thank You” for making it possible for two guys in green spandex suits to become a league wide phenomenon. “Thank You” for being better than 28 other NHL teams and laying it all on the line for a chance to bring The Stanley Cup north of the border for the first time since 1993.
The headlines read: Canucks lose, fans riot. This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen. The Canucks were the best team in hockey. They were destined to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada. Instead; Boston, a city with a gluttony of sports championships in the past decade added another to their trophy case.
I watched game 7. The Bruins won fair & square. Hockey history will remember the Canucks team as a great failure and the riots will long remain a black eye on one of Canada’s greatest cities. This hockey fan will remember those things. But, as I watched Ray Bourque cry and a young Sidney Crosby reach his seemingly pre-ordained destiny of raising The Cup, this year I will remember The Vancouver fans cheering so loudly for their losing team that the players were compelled to respond with a final salute.
As the Vancouver players stood dejected and waited for the final handshake, the fans continued cheering. The players one by one looked up and realized even in defeat that their hometown fans were behind them. In a final gesture, they skated to the center of the Arena and raised their sticks in recognition of the fans, causing the cheering to reach its pinnacle.
These same fans subsequently began a clearly recognizable cheer of “Bettman Sucks!” as the much maligned commissioner presented The Cup to Zdeno Chara. I will excuse this as I also think that Bettman sucks.
When we are removed from the emotion of the moment, it’s easy to say this is the way one should act in the face of defeat. We teach our kids to be gracious in defeat as well as victory. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. I have witnessed many Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres defeats ending with booing, throwing objects on the playing surface and drunken fighting in the parking lot. It’s easy to let your emotions take over and join the angry mob. It’s the toughest thing to stand tall in defeat. Vancouver’s hockey team lost, the city lost, but the fans inside the Arena won.