2011.06.16

Watching hockey makes me more nervous than excited. Exhibition or game seven at home, my stomach rolls and I have to watch between my fingers, out of the corner of my eye. If I don’t look directly at the net, maybe the puck won’t go in. I’m not one of those fans who yells at the screen. I know I can’t do anything to help them, and that’s what makes me nervous.

You’ve seen the crowds in Vancouver. You’re seeing something brand new. We’re remembering what it felt like to be Canadian during the Olympics. Any Canadian, from anywhere. It felt OK, for the very first time. It wasn’t us, but maybe it could be.

The Olympics opened something inside all of us that hasn’t had time to close yet. Now, we’re filling that space up with our love for the Canucks. It doesn’t matter if the rest of Canada is cheering along. It doesn’t even matter if they care. Because the streets of Vancouver are full.

My brother says I picked the wrong time to leave. I’ve been wanting to leave, to see something new. I wanted to leave two years ago, but the Olympics were coming. I couldn’t leave before the Olympics, I decided. The Stanley Cup, my brother said. You can’t leave before the Stanley Cup. There would always be something to keep me here.

I found myself downtown during the last game of the Western Conference final. Not for hockey, but hockey is hard to escape in this city. Kesler scored late, almost the latest you can score to stay alive. he sent the game to overtime and the whole city out onto the streets. There’s a big screen on the side of the CBC building. There’s no traffic because the streets are full of fans. I didn’t have the best view. The teenage boys standing next to me made plans to tear down the spindly tree in front of us. Behind us, a husband asked his wife if she wanted to move so she could see. I turned around. I said, Don’t worry. When they score, you’ll feel it.

We felt it. I didn’t know who exactly scored the overtime goal to send us to the Stanley Cup final, but I felt it.

There are some days when I regret not hanging the cost and getting to an Olympic game, any Olympic game. But those are very few days. Because I was there, in the heart of the city when our hearts opened up. We felt the Olympics sweep across the city, the river, the suburbs, and the rest of Canada.

When Bieksa made that shot, when he scored that impossible goal, the city opened up again. The crowd at CBC Plaza took a deep breath and cheered out loud. Did you hear us?

It might just be that the best moment of the Playoffs happened before the last game seven. When Bieksa scored a weird goal in overtime and sent Vancouver to the final. Or maybe it was during the first series, overtime again, when Burrows vanquished Chicago, then left the building to meet his wife having their first baby. Maybe it was that beauty of a Sedin goal, the blind pass through Niemi’s legs to Burrows’s stick and into the net. Maybe we used up our good goals. Maybe you only get so many and we used them all up before we got to game seven.

Because here’s the thing. Vancouver isn’t used to being the best. We’ve had the whole season, listening to analysts telling us we’re going to win the Cup. Since December seeing our name at the top of the NHL standings. They’re expecting us to win. But no one outside Vancouver wants us to win.

The truth is, no one in Vancouver thinks we can win. We’ve been here before. We’ve been disappointed, but not often enough to know how to get past it.

Canada likes to be the underdog. We get excited when the rest of the world sits up and notices us, but it never feels comfortable. Being a Vancouver Canucks fan feels the same way. Montreal, sure. Calgary and Ottawa were just here. Everyone who loves hockey remembers when Edmonton was Gretzky and the best. Nobody thinks of Vancouver first. Nobody expects first from Vancouver.

But we wanted it. I thought that would be enough. My dad came to Canada from England when he was 11. If he had stayed on that side of the Atlantic a little longer, I might be a soccer fan. but my dad was11, and three years later, the Canucks joined the NHL, and that was it. He was a hockey fan, a hockey player, a goalie, in fact. His first job was in the skate shop at the local rink.

Forty years ago this year, the Canucks joined the league, and my dad has been waiting all that time. My brother has been waiting since 1994. We’re a hockey family. We wanted this.

We wanted this for Roger Nielson and Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden and Kirk McLean. we wanted this for the city with the open heart. We wanted this for Canada, who hasn’t had it for 18 years. We wanted the Cup so badly, and it wasn’t enough.

Wanting isn’t enough in sports. It gets you halfway there, but you have to be better. This year, Boston was better. Tim Thomas was better, and when, in the second period I realised he wasn’t going to let anything into his net, I was hoping instead that Vancouver would be the better city.

The first photographs of the riots were posted before I went to bed on the East coast. Oh, Vancouver, I thought we were going to be better than this. Our hearts were so open, and now they are so full of sadness. We are broken, like we had long suspected our team was, too. Kesler still won’t tell us how hurt he is. I don’t think anyone outside that locker room will know for a while.

It’s been a long winter in Vancouver, the cold and rainy weather stretching far into the spring. Summer will be a long time coming. Hockey will go away, but when it returns, let’s cheer. Let’s open our hearts again and invite the whole team in. I’m hoping we get to see Kesler smile again.