Think back to the mid-to-late 80’s when the Edmonton Oilers were emerging as the greatest hockey dynasty since the dominant years of the Montreal Canadiens. They were quite simply unstoppable. Some of you cannot recall that time, because you weren’t alive, or you were too young, but those who do will inform you that all-star, Wayne Gretzky, was not so universally loved.
Whiner and diver were words often used to describe him – no joke. For the man who would one day be universally regarded not only as the best hockey player ever to grace the Earth, but as hockey’s greatest ambassador as well.
As for his team – if you were a fan of the Canucks, Jets, Flames, or Kings or any team who regularly lost to them – you felt nothing but hatred towards the Oilers. Sure, you knew they were amazing – hell they were the class of the NHL – but for all the pain they put you through, you just could not be happy for them.
The problem was, in your heart of hearts, you wished the Oilers were your team. Or at least you wished that Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, and Coffey were on your team instead. As long as they weren’t, you weren’t about to concede that they were as good as everyone said, and come hell or high water, you would never cheer for them.
Messier was dirty, Gretzky was a diver, McSorley was nothing but a goon! As long as the Oilers were so incredibly stacked, that was your story and you were sticking to it.
Clearly, there was a disconnect between perception and reality.
In the past few days, we’ve heard stories about how hated the Vancouver Canucks are – by fans, players, and even members of the media media around the league. Matt Sekeres of the Globe and Mail wrote an article outlining the phenomenon. An excerpt – Edmonton Oiler Ryan Whitney on the Canucks:
“This team is so easy to hate it is unbelievable … I’d say that 90 per cent of the guys in the league want nothing to do with seeing them win.”
Then there’s Chicago Daily Herald writer Barry Rozner’s slightly harsher take:
“…they’re still a gutless collection of whining, cheap-shot artists whose best quality is their ability to do their hair while driving to the rink — not to mention hair-pulling after they get there. But now they’ve added biting and kicking.”
Vancouverites have been incensed by it all, wondering how their team, led by twin brothers who are not only incredible players, but are also two of the finest human beings in the entire NHL, can possibly have such a misplaced reputation.
Only one year ago, Daniel and Henrik made a $1.5 million donation to help build a new BC Children’s hospital. Their generosity and humility coupled with their unwavering work ethic and desire to be the best has made them the ultimate role models in Vancouver.
There are Sami Salo and Manny Malhotra, both of whom suffered career threatening injuries, yet showed perseverance and dedication in fighting the toughest of tests to play for the team today.
And there’s the most misunderstood Alex Burrows, who, upon every goal he scores, does a bow-and-arrow tribute to his late Canuck teammate Luc Bourdon, so that his fallen friend will never be forgotten.
Two years ago, I came across Alex Burrows at a BC Lions football game, who after having just signed a 4-year contract extension and putting together a career year, was reaching rock-star status in the city. As he walked into the concession area, he was mobbed by fans seeking pictures and autographs. After doing 20 or so, BC Place Stadium security stepped in to ask if he wanted an escort out. He took a look at the faces of the fans still gathered around and waved security away.
I’ve met him on 3 other occasions, and no matter who he was with, alone or with teammates, he always stopped to talk when I greeted him. I got the genuine feeling that he had all the time in the world for me, and for any person that wanted to meet him. And I’m not sure if you’re aware of Vancouver’s obsession with their hockey team, but this takes a lot more patience than many players willing to offer.
Mike Gillis’ team is built upon many more such high-character individuals, which only leaves more questions than answers. Why do fans everywhere, and Ryan Whitney and “90 per cent of the guys in the league” dislike these very likeable players with such passion?
Are the Canucks so good that they inspire hatred?
They simply dominated the regular season, having wrapped up their division almost entirely by the end of January and coasting through the final month and a half of the season without a care in the world. There were a couple of hiccups in the playoffs – a first round that went 7, and a second that went 6 games, but then they dominated the best of the West in the Conference Finals – winning it in only 5 games.
After 2 games in the Stanley Cup Finals, it looked like they might walk right over the Bruins on their march to the Cup.
Yet this is the picture being painted:
“Typical, pulling hair and biting people. Sort of like a girl” – Blackhawks’ Dave Bolland.
“That’s what the Vancouver Canucks are all about. There’s the constant diving, slashing behind the play and refusal to drop their sticks.” – Daily Tribune‘s Rozner.
Offended, outraged Canucks fans, take solace: the bitterness we see is nothing but an ill-fitted mask covering an overwhelming admiration.