When visiting Canada, you can’t help but fall in love with the majestic mountains of Whistler, the international flavor of Toronto, and a taste of French Canadian culture in Montreal and Quebec. While Canada has an abundance of culture, cuisine, and Canadian Rockies, the most appealing thing about this country are the Canucks themselves.
In Vancouver, I strolled the streets of Robson and Granville, strolled along the waterfront area near the Burrard Inlet, and enjoyed the restaurant and pub scene in Yaletown. While the people of Vancouver are like a warm handshake, hot drink, and a welcoming hug to a stranger in the cold, don’t mistake that friendliness for a lack of passion.
Without a doubt, Vancouver may have some of the most passionate sports fans I have even seen. During my recent trip to Vancouver, I was able to share in the excitement of the Stanley Cup Finals with thousands of rabid Vancouver Canucks fans.
A brief history of the NHL in Canada
In Canada, hockey is legendary. And many legends of the game come from Canada. Some of the greatest hockey players of all time – Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier – have won championships for country and NHL teams. While the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have the most NHL titles (24 and 13, respectively), a Canadian team hasn’t won the NHL Stanley Cup since 1993 – far too long for country rich in hockey tradition and talent.
The history of hockey is rooted in the Canadian cold and ice. The NHL began in November 1917 in Montreal during the height of World War I as it took over for the defunct National Hockey Association (NHA). Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, and a new team in Toronto formed the first few members. Now the league contains 30 teams and plays for the oldest professional sports trophy in North America – Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Stanley Cup is another storied part of Canada’s hockey history as The Governor General of Canada Lord Stanley of Preston first presented the award to the top ranking amateur ice hockey team in Canada in 1893. Appointed by Queen Victoria to the position, Lord Stanley first noticed the game of hockey at the 1889 at the Winter Festival. As his entire family fell in love with the game, he decided to create a trophy and present it to the champion.
The first team to receive Lord Stanley’s Cup was Montreal HC. Beginning in 1915, the trophy was given to the winner of the National Hockey Association and Pacific Coast Hockey Association as the season champions faced off. In 1926, the Stanley Cup became the winner’s trophy for the NHL champions.
From Lord Stanley’s Cup to the founding of the NHA and NHL, the history of hockey runs deep in Canada. Many years later, those roots run deeper and wider and are as strong as ever.
While hockey can be known as a fast spaced and violent sport on ice often involving fights and blood, a different kind of blood runs through the veins of most Canadians. With its storied history and championship lore, hockey is not just a sport in Canada but a part of its culture as well.
As an American, I understand football and baseball. However, I’ve never really understood hockey. While sports in America runs far and wide in a tapestry of colors and variety of plants and trees, sports in Canada is a dense forest of redwood trees with deep roots reaching high into the sky. Unlike the wide variety in America, the sports scene in Canada is dominated by hockey.
In Vancouver, Stanley Park stands as one of the proud symbols of the city with winding paths and the pedals of pedestrians on bikes enjoying the green trees that seem to stretch for miles beneath the cascading Coastal Mountain range. However, the colors of green in Stanley Park have suddenly been overwhelmed by a sea of blue and green throughout the city.
On this night, the Vancouver Canucks are facing the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals with the series tied 2-2. It’s a couple of hours before game time and the streets are already filled with Canucks jerseys and flags. I’ve never seen so many people so excited and united over a sporting event. From street vendors to businessman, nearly everyone is passionate for the Canucks.
Enjoying the company of new Canadian friends, I join an all Canadian celebration and party at Blue Water Cafe in the chic area known as Yaletown. While many Canadians fill this bar and restaurant, thousands join the celebration near the Rogers Centre and on the streets of Robson and Granville to watch the game on huge screens. A few proud Canadians stand for the national anthem and many join in the chorus belting out their national pride in unison.
As the game begins, it’s fast-paced with lots of opportunities and great saves. Vancouver commits way too many penalties in the first period to the disgust of the crowd. However, the first period ends scoreless as many seated in the bar begin their amateur analysis. Meanwhile, Canada and hockey icon Don Cherry does his own analysis on the CBC dressed in another outrageous suit. Yet not even this Canadian legend can overshadow this game.
The second period begins and ends the same as the first – scoreless. Finally, the third period saw some magic as Max LaPierre punches in the goal for Vancouver with 15:26 left in the game. A massive explosion of cheers and screams erupts from the Blue Water Cafe as high fives and hugs are exchanged.
The rest of the third period is an emotional roller coaster ride as Vancouver withstands a furious Boston attack. However, as the last few seconds melt away, the eruption begins again.
As the bars and restaurants empty, Canucks fans parade through the streets littering every area of the city with celebrations and high fives. An unusual fever spreads among people with symptoms of screams, spontaneous outbursts of joy, and a slight case of hysteria (Canadian style of course – polite and respectful). While the fever only seems contagious among Canadians, I begin to wonder if I am getting a slight strain of it as well as goosebumps begin to appear on my skin and a mild case of high fives overcomes me.
As we make our way towards Robson and Granville streets, the crowds begin to grow. A line of uniformed policeman walk through the city streets to make sure order is maintained. However, even the police have been affected by this disease known as “Canucks fever” as they slap hands and give high fivesto those celebrating. The number of people affected by this fever grows and huddled masses make a walk through the streets nearly impossible. Throughout the streets, many take photos and videos, wave Canucks flags and towels, and join in the celebration with thousands as the party goes on for hours.
It’s fun, exciting, and peaceful. There’s no violence or outrageous behavior but the passion of the people in Vancouver makes me proud to be here. As I gathered with new Canadian friends to watch the game and walked the streets with people of all races and nationalities, I understood what it meant to be Canadian and love hockey.
I’ve spent many years around some of the most passionate fans in sports – SEC football fans (after all, college football helped inspire me to travel). And the fans of Vancouver rival anything I’ve ever experienced. Watching the people celebrate, it’s not just about Vancouver. It’s about a passion for hockey that transcends culture in Canada and runs deep. It’s not a sport but a part of who these people are.
Never have I seen people be so passionate yet polite, raucous but respectful, and happy yet so honorable. They didn’t even win the Stanley Cup – just Game 5 and one step closer.
Vancouver local Cameron Wears grew up on the east coast of Canada but went to school on the west coast where he has made Vancouver his home for many years. While it’s hard to sum up the connection between hockey, Vancouver, and Canada, Cameron shares his thoughts.
“Hockey is religion in Canada. It’s our sport and our passion. We love a good body-check as much as a game winning goal. It’s hard to put the obession into words, but the best comparison is that the Stanley Cup is to Canadians what the Super Bowl is to Americans, or the Champions League to Europeans.” From my perspective, it’s much more than that.
For the city of Vancouver, this means even more. “We don’t have multiple professional sports teams in Vancouver, so it’s easy to see why we take it so seriously” Wears states. “You have to remember, the Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup championship in its 40 years of existence. I still find it hard to imagine a Canadian team that has never hoisted the cup!? Heck, we’ve never hosted any professional trophy!”
However, this is more than just a Vancouver thing. While a title would mean a lot to this city, all of Canada wants another title. Wears echoes that sentiment.
“I think the recent celebrations in Vancouver are proof that professional sports bring a city and community together. Even though the majority of the league is made up of Canadian hockey players, a Canadian team hasn’t won the Cup since 1993. The yearly disappointment has been brewing for years. Canadians are just about ready to explode, and the Canucks have the best shot at bringing the Cup back to Canada!”
If the Canucks win the cup, then all of Canada may celebrate with them.
A passionate love affair – Canada and hockey
What began as a game many years ago in Canada, now has become part of the Canadian culture. While a glimpse of this passion has been seen in Vancouver this year, the love for the sport is seen throughout the country.
Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky may be legends in Canada but the passion shared among Canadians and hockey runs deep. To even call it an affair isn’t accurate. Sure, Canadians enjoy other sports like soccer, curling, Canadian football, and even a little baseball and basketball. However, these are considered good friends – not lifelong partners.
It’s hard to believe that passion like this exists everywhere in Canada for hockey. However, when it is as much a part of your culture as it is a sport, you bleed hockey sticks and pucks. While this strange fever has come quite suddenly to Vancouver, it has probably been known to strike other parts of Canada as well.
Yet hockey in Canada is neither a sickness or an affair. It’s part of who you are. Canadians are proud, passionate, and polite. Sometimes Canucks do go wild but that’s because they can’t help being in love with the game that is so much a part of them.
If you want to experience hockey on the other side of Canada, check out cheap flights to Toronto from easy voyage for a chance to see the Maple Leafs or Ottawa Senators play!
Check out another video of the celebration as well as Cam’s video of the Vancouver Canucks win in Game 2.