This might date myself a tad, but I recall where I was in 1994 on May 24th. I was at home in New Westminster, tightly clenching my hands together in a tightly clenched prayer style shape. What happened to make me do this? The Vancouver Canucks, the local NHL team here was in double overtime against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs in game 5 of a best of 7 series we were leading 3-1. If we scored, we went to the finals for only the 2nd time ever (the first time I too lived thru, but didnt really understand the severity of it at the time since I was of an age still in single digits, we would lose in 4 straight games in the finals that year to the New York Islanders). A B.C. boy by the name of Greg Adams, whom we obtained in a trade with the New Jersey Devils several years prior would score the eventual winner 14 seconds into that 2nd overtime on a backhander that he slipped by future Canuck Felix Potvin. We were headed to the Stanley Cup finals. It was monumental in this cities sports history. We eventually would lose in the finals to the New York Rangers in game 7 by a narrow 3-2 score, but that moment is to many in Vancouver, 1 of the cities biggest in sports history.
So imagine the shock to Canucks fans who have endured that once before, when 17 years later, we found ourselves on May 24th, in a Western Conference finals, with a 3-1 series lead, in double overtime at home...again. by now, every die hard Canucks fan, casual fan, fairweather fan & even some non-fans know how that game ended. It ended with 1 of the zaniest series clinching goals ever, as Kevin Bieksa knucklepucked a shot from the point past an unaware Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. Of the 18000+ fans in attendace, 2 TV crews & dozen players on the ice, it seemed maybe a 1/2 a dozen people total were aware that after an Alex Edler dump in off the boards that the puck deflected off a stanchion & back out into the middle of the ice. 1 of those rare people, Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks defender moved in towards the puck that gifted itself to him & drove a hard slap shot towards the Sharks net that wobbled & skipped its way past a confused Niemi. Fans were so unaware of what was going on, they only reacted when the likes of Alex Burrows & Henrik Sedin, near the net reacted. Sharks players reacted, but far too late, even Kevins own teammates were not all aware of what was about to happen. Another generation of Canucks fans will remember that moment, regardless how the finals end. Its 1 of those moments that sticks with you. Just like Greg Adams in 1994 on the very same date.
Of course, after the win, while the players partied in the dressing room together, fans did the same, out in public on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Granville street was completely closed off to traffic, as fans poured out to high five other strangers, wave their towels & flags & yell any & all phrases they could think of to express their jubilation. I saw a faux greenman, I saw an even sadder imposter- a blue man, I saw 30+ Stanley Cups of all types roaming the streets, being hoisted high & I also saw 2 creatures (pictured below) that I still dont have an explantion for, dressed in Henrik Sedin jerseys, sporting what I can only describe as some type of weird egg type head gear.
A couple of observations. The crowd seemed quite content & happy. Never saw even 1 angry look from 1 person to another. Im sure there were some mild issues, but they were few & far between...unlike when I was in Edmonton during their Cup run where there was stabbings almost nightly it seemed. There was also sadly for us guys (and girls here wonder why the world over consider girls here "snobby") no Red Mile action like in Calgary during their Cup run. The boobs in this town refuse to come out. To be honest, the overall electricity & excitement of the crowd, while high, was still short of anything I have seen in Edmonton, Calgary or even Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. Will it be different if they win the Cup??? Perhaps. Starting June 1st, the Vancouver Canucks will try to do something they havent done in 39 previous seasons, 23 playoff appearances & 2 Finals appearances. Win the Stanley Cup. The oppnent, yet to be decided. Either the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that crushed the Calgary Flames hopes last time in 2004, or the Boston Bruins, the team that last lost a Championship to 1 of the Western Canadian teams in 1990 to the Edmonton Oilers. One thing is certain, Canucks fans probably are pretty thrilled, it wont be a team from New York.
Before you start envisioning where you will place the "Stanley Cup Champions" pennant in your house Canucks fans, just remember, we are only 1/2 way to a possible franchise first championship.
True, the Vancouver Canucks finally shook the 2nd monkey off their back these playoffs, but its far from over.
The most recent demon they exorcised was that "getting past round 2" demon thats haunted them for 17 seasons, 9 previous playoff years & 5 previous round 2 match ups.
This time, the stick of Daniel Sedin launched the city into round 3 for the 1st time since their miracle run of 1994 when he helped the Nucks beat Nashville Predators in game 6 2-1.
So whats in store for us now? A date with the San Jose Sharks. The team who finished 2nd in the Western Conference to the Canucks, 5th in the league & are currently the 2nd highest ranking team left in the post-season.
Its a new challenge for them. The past 2 WCF the Canucks made, they did not face top ranked teams. The Toront Maple Leafs werent the Norris division champs in 94, the Chicago BlackHawks werent the Norris division champs in 82, hell, the Hawks werent even as good as the Canucks that year in the regular season. This is the 1st time the Vancouver Canucks have faced an actual division champion in round 3.
With questions surround the play of the Sedins, and more recently Henrik's health, as well as Mikael Samuelsson's mystery ailment, some do actually wonder if this team will be able to make the finals this time. Sure Ryan Kesler has been a beast & Roberto Luongo has been good enough, but they are now going up against a team that was legitimately a contender this season.
Now the Canucks are the demon a team is looking to exorcize. The Sharks have been perrenial contenders for several years, but never made it to the Stanley Cup finals. They have found themselves in the conference finals twice this decade, but never managed to get to the finals. Last year the Hawks did them in, in 2004 it was the Calgary Flames.
This is, in my mind, the first real test for the Canucks. The Sharks have far more scoring depth than Chicago did, certainly far far more than Nashville. They have a goalie that is coming off a Cup win last year in Antti Niemi, who after a slow start this year is really back in the zone. They have a defense core with over 300 NHL Playoff games & 3 Cup winners on it. They have a forward group that consists of 3 Olympic Gold medal winners, a silver medalist, a Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, a Calder trophy, 2- 50 goal seasons & 1 Stanley Cup. This team actually knows what winning feels like, just not together.
I still feel the Canucks can win this series, but it will be a dogfight. Round 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starts tonight in Vancouver, and for the next 2 or so weeks, Vancouverites will be in a continual state of near nervous breakdown till the final horn goes, regardless of the outcome.
I will be the first to say, I didnt know Derek Boogaard at all. I thought I did a bit, but reading articles on the 6'8 NHL enforcer today, I really wonder "who is the man that I met so many times?".
Of course, most of you reading this will already be aware of the tragic news that Derek Boogaard was discovered in his Minnesota apartment yesterday dead of still unknown causes.
Boogaard was known on the ice as a tough as nails fighter who was arguably known around the league as perhaps the toughest player in the league. The "Boogeeyman" as he was known by fans & foes was a menacing force on the ice. Few if any opponents wanted to face him in his specific role as enforcer. In his chosen role, he was extremely good. Of course, he did lack other hockey skills that made him a limited range player, but he understood what was going to keep him in the NHL & didnt try to play too much outside of his skill set.
Off the ice, the Boogaard I had seen over the years started off as a pleasant, personable enforcer (as many are actually), but had at some point become less friendly with those of us on our side of the fence. He was terrible at engaging with autograph hounds, and no better when it came to fans. In his defense, his treatment of us, the professionals, quite warranted. We did probably give him his jaded outlook about interacting with fans by continually having a multitude of items for him everytime he came here. Fact was, he was a popular commodoty in Minnesota, and we knew it. So, as time would go on, Derek started to become less receptive to any requests. However, like many who get that jaded over autographs & photos with, he took the same approach to fans as well. Everytime the Wild came to Vancouver, there was 1-2 devoted diehard Wild fans there, at least 1 or the other came every game & Boogaard treated them with the same respect as us, despite it being abundantly clear, they were not like the rest. Its THAT Boogaard that most people here remember unfortunately.
Usually, this type of attitude off the ice is a strong indicator of the type of person someone generally is. Sure, you always hear all the great things about someone after they pass away. I mean I am sure even Sean Avery would have great things said about him if he died, maybe even Gary Bettman. Fact is, unlike them, Boogaard probably is/was a good guy, we just got a bad vision of him because frankly, we probably took advantage of him some. The fact that I can actually recall him being good with fans & hounds alike is something that I cant say of others. Somewhere deep down, he was probably still "that guy", we just never got to see it.
Boogaard will be missed. Fans of the New York Rangers, who enjoy tough guy hockey players will miss him. Many Minnesota Wild fans, where he developed his game & became a popular figure for some years will miss him. His team mates & ex-team mates surely will also miss him. His fans from across the league, who appreciated the type of game he played, will miss him. Hockey as a whole, will miss him. He afterall is 1 of a now rare breed of true enforcer. His loss is truly a loss for hockey as well. He wasnt just a player, he was a character, a player with moderate name recognition, a fancy nickname & 1 of the few remaining pieces in the NHL who still played hockey the way many remember & miss, with unabashed toughness.
Reading an article by Minnesota area writer Michael Russo today on the death of Derek Boogaard titled "So Long To The Boogey-Man" http://www.startribune.com/sports/blogs/121826023.html
made me doubt I really knew the Boogeyman at all. His story about the 28 year old Saskatchewan native made me honestly well up a bit, something I would have bet money someone could not make me do. Its hard to envision a softer side story to Boogaard, yet Russo managed to put one together. He talked about various charities that will also be missing Derek, about how funny he was to talk to & about how he understood what his role was & was fine with it. I really wish we got to see this Derek Boogaard more, and not the one who would walk by us stone-faced & ignorantly ignoring everyone, including some of their most die-hard fans. Now we will never get that chance.
Of course the people who will miss Derek Boogaard the most are not the fans who only know him from his on ice work, its his friends & family who knew him off the ice. His 2 brothers, sister, parents & other family have lost a part of their family today. His friends have lost a part of their daily lives.
You did not have to be a fan of Derek Boogaard to appreciate the efforts he made on the ice & off it. He will be missed by family, friends, fans & the sport as a whole. Rest in Peace Derek.