BY DAVID PAGNI
Until arriving in Vancouver, my only two hockey experiences were knocking my two front teeth through my bottom lip on a frozen Connecticut farm pond when I was about ten, and attending an extended brawl both in the stands and on the ice back when the New Haven Blades (AAA Hockey Farm team) were still keeping the emergency responders busy in the 1960s.
For better or worse, I’ve been a sports fan all my life and still lapse nostalgic for my letter sweater varsity glory days, so I feel pretty familiar with what makes partisan sports crowds tick, but have no real experience with hockey. When we arrived to live in Canada in January of this year, I thought “Canucks” was a derogatory term, that’s how clueless I was about the city’s great passion. Normally, sports are a pastime, but not here. Hockey is as vital to life in Vancouver as the carotid artery is to brain function.
From January through May, when the Canucks were rolling towards the NHL playoffs, more and more Canucks car flags, window signs, and player jerseys became evident, leading to a crescendo of team support and fevered passion when they reached the NHL finals against the Boston Bruins. Businesses routinely closed a half hour before game time with unapologetic windows signs reading “CLOSED at 4:30…. Hockey.” Canucks player jersey sales must be buoying the Canadian economy as it seems every other man, woman or child, even six-month old infants, are sporting the green and blue colors. The local Boston Pizza parlor has a sign taped across its marquee so it now reads “Vancouver Pizza.”
A beat up pickup truck with a ten foot high likeness of the Stanley Cup drives constantly through town blaring its horn, receiving applause and cheers and evoking a flurry of answering horn blasts. Talk in the pubs, barber shops, yes, even the hairdressers, grocery lines and doctors offices centers on the psychological state of Roberto Luongo or the justification for Alexandre Burrows’s finger bite. I’m amazed by the number of women who seem equally as nuts about hockey and the Canucks as the men. Our soft-spoken and diminutive neighbor, a model of decorum and grace, was absolutely gloating in the elevator the other day about Ryan Kesler burying some Bruin into the boards. Safety first: if you’re not a Canucks fan in this town, best keep it to yourself!
Win or lose Wednesday night, game seven of the Stanley Cup at Rogers Stadium in Vancouver will leave the city a ghost town from 5 PM to the horn, with only the joyous cheers or expletive deleted moans resounding throughout our apartment building and neighborhood as the game progresses. We don’t have to watch, just listen and keep mental score! Yep, this is a hockey mad place. Hockey flows through Canadian blood much akin to the way soccer is part of every Brazilian’s DNA. Like it or not, just breathing the air in Vancouver infects you with hockey fever. I might not know much about hockey offensive lines or penalty boxes but I know I’m getting that familiar set of butterflies in the gut just thinking about THE GAME tomorrow night! GO CANUCKS! (I’m hooked!)