On Wednesday morning, hours before the puck drop for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, Brian Smith is receiving unsolicited offers for his pair of tickets at Rogers Arena.
Smith, a longtime Canucks season-ticket holder from Abbotsford, occasionally sells tickets for games he can’t attend. On this day, his email inbox is jammed with overtures from his usual customers. One person offers $4,000 for the pair. The face value is $250.
But these tickets aren’t for sale. Smith has a dream. He wants to be there to watch Canucks captain Henrik Sedin hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in the 40-year history of the franchise. Hopefully.
“I’ve got one friend who’s going, and he paid $2,500 bucks a seat – wow,” Smith marvels. “I look at it as, I get to go to the greatest game for $250.”
Greatest game? We shall see.
Seated in the stands at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC), Rajan Buttar is nervous as he stares at the jumbotron, awaiting the opening faceoff.
The 14-year-old Mission Secondary student is here with a group of his friends. They watched Game 6 here, as well, eager to contribute to and experience the energy of the crowd.
“We couldn’t go down to Vancouver, so we came here,” Buttar said. Later, he’ll probably realize that was a stroke of luck.
Buttar is wearing a Henrik Sedin T-shirt. His buddy Jimmy Deol is more colourfully attired. He’s sporting a pink-and-white Canucks jersey, apparently secure in his choice of hockey team, and his masculinity.
Deol explains he didn’t have a jersey of his own, so he borrowed this one from Darveen Sidhu, his friend Jason’s sister.
“It’s pretty sweet, right?” he says with a wide grin. “You’ve got to represent the Canucks!”
The fans at the AESC, about 1,500 of them, stand for the national anthems and belt out “O Canada.” The puck drops. Close your eyes, you might think you’re on a roller-coaster at the PNE.
“Whoooooaaah!” (volume rising as the Canucks threaten the Bruins’ net).
“Aaaaaaaah!” (volume falling as Boston goalie Tim Thomas makes the save).
A woman whispers urgently: “Please get the first goal!”
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron scores off a faceoff at the 14:37 mark.
The same woman: “Nooooooooo!”
Driving across town to Gerry and Linda Wall’s house on Eagle Mountain, the streets of Abbotsford are nearly deserted. Stopping at a traffic light, you half expect a tumbleweed to roll through the intersection.
Ashley Wall, Gerry and Linda’s daughter-in-law, answers the door. She’s trying not to watch the game.
“It stresses me out,” she says.
In the basement, 15 Canuck-jersey-wearing diehards are gathered in front of a 60-inch plasma TV. A bunch of empty pizza boxes are piled on a side table. Above the TV, an autographed Luongo jersey is hanging.
That jersey has quite the story, Gerry says. Two years ago, he gave a speech at a wedding reception, welcoming his new step-son-in-law to the family. If you want to be part of our clan, Gerry told him, you have to put on this jersey. We’re Canucks fans, you see. The groom was a hardcore Calgary Flames supporter, but in the spirit of good-natured fun, he put on the garment.
Gerry made him keep it. So last year, the groom – wanting this jersey out of his house – stood in line for hours to get Luongo to sign it. Gerry accepted it as a Christmas gift.
By any definition, Gerry is a true fan. He remembers laying on the carpet in his living room as a 10-year-old boy, listening to Jim Robson call the first game in Canucks history on CKNW.
Gerry, his three sons, their wives and friends have watched every 2011 Canucks playoff game in this room. The bond that can be built over a shared passion for a simple game, it seems, is the true value of being a sports fan.
This group is not above superstition. Brad, Gerry’s son, insists on sitting in the same tan leather easy chair, leaving only to dash to the washroom.
“I have a nervous bladder,” he explains with a chuckle. “They’ve only won one game when I’m not sitting in this chair. 14 out of 15 wins, I’ve been here.”
Brad Marchand and Bergeron, with his second of the game, score to stake the Bruins to a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes. Gerry is starting to wonder whether he’ll see the Canucks hoist the Cup in his lifetime. Brad stares at the ceiling, the back of his head resting on the top of his lucky chair.
Boston Pizza on South Fraser Way – rebranded Vancouver Pizza for the duration of the finals – is packed wall-to-wall with Canucks jerseys, but the mood is one of resignation.
The Canucks have 20 minutes to score three goals and force overtime. That’s a tough feat under normal circumstances, but against Thomas, the Bruins’ superhuman goalie? Next to impossible.
When Marchand scores into an empty net with less than three minutes left, patrons start to trickle out of the restaurant side. Over at the bar, fans stick around to watch Bruins captain Zdeno Chara hoist the Cup.
“It’s sad now, because they lost,” server Maggie Lam says. “But I am kind of happy that it’s over. For people that work in restaurants, it’s been crazy.”
Holly Scarrow, an 18-year-old UFV student, takes a glass-half-full approach.
“It’s depressing, but I think it’s still cool that they made it this far,” she says. “I’m proud of them. They did well.
“It’s so cool that a hockey team can bring everybody together.”
No one’s seen footage of the riot in downtown Vancouver yet.
The intersection of South Fraser Way and Gladwin Road had been the site of 15 previous street parties in the wake of Canucks playoff wins. It’s quiet tonight, save for a handful of diehard fans.
Jon Silver, 25, is waving a huge blue Canucks flag, drawing supportive honks from motorists.
“I’m here to remind everybody that we are all Canucks,” he said. “Win or lose, I was out here no matter what.
“This is tough, man, you don’t even know. In the second period, I was crying in my mom’s bathroom because I already knew they’d lost.”
He pauses, takes a deep breath to compose himself, and turns his attention back to the passing motorists.
“LOVE THEM OR HATE THEM, THEY BROUGHT US THIS FAR! THEY BROUGHT US THIS FAR! GIVE THEM THE RESPECT THEY DESERVE!”
A pair of Abbotsford police officers pedal by on bicycles. Almost 70 of their compatriots will soon be off to Vancouver to help quell the post-game riots.
THE MORNING AFTER
For $4,000, Brian Smith could have spent a week in Hawaii. But he doesn’t regret the decision to attend Game 7.
“I’d never seen the Stanley Cup live before,” he says. “I’m 47, and I still love to play hockey. So to see that, for me, was the coolest thing. I was happy for the B.C. boys, (Milan) Lucic and (Mark) Recchi.”
When Smith and his wife Sherri emerged from the arena, it didn’t take long to figure out something was amiss. Smoke from a series of car fires was billowing into the air. Smith had parked on the street.
“I’m thinking, ‘Please let my car be in one piece,'” he said. “We usually park on Dunsmuir, but we didn’t yesterday because it was too busy. So we pulled down a side street, and thank goodness, because there were cars up on their side (on Dunsmuir).
“You could certainly feel the anticipation of something about to go really bad. We got out of town before it was too late.”
Last Friday, Smith’s 10-year-old son Jayson had the opportunity to skate with the Canucks during warm-up of Game 5, after winning a contest. By the time Smith got home on Wednesday, Jayson was pretty shaken up by TV footage of the riot.
“I tried to explain to him that this as nothing to do with hockey,” Smith says. “These were guys who were going to do that, no matter what. They’re not mad fans, they’re mad people who I think went down there for a reason.
“We never talked about the game when we got home. It wasn’t a subject of conversation.”
About 1,500 Canucks fans took in Game 7 on the jumbotron at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.