I consider myself lucky: I moved out of the Southern Ontario region when I was 14. One or two more years there, and I would have formed a lifelong bond of loyalty with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and if you know anything about their history since NHL expansion, that's like putting your hand into the grab-bag of "hobbies for life" and pulling out "putting tabasco sauce in your eyes."
So compared to that, being a Vancouver Canucks fan ain't half bad.
And Vancouver fans are lucky, too: no matter how much heartbreak they go through as sports fans, they still live in Vancouver, for the most part, so they've got that going for them. They can go work out their frustration with a long walk along the seawall, or on a bike trail, or this winter at Whistler, or by taking a drive up and down Vancouver Island. Or chill out by smoking some of the best weed in the world... decriminalized. It's not a hard life. Better than being an Edmonton fan if the Oilers are sucking, when the only thing to do is ride your dogsled team down refinery lane. (That's an exaggeration.) And let's not even get started on places like Detroit or Cleveland.
I'm a Vancouver Canucks fan. Definitely. Been rooting for them, hard, all through these playoffs.
So here are a few thoughts:
1. Boston has had a friggin' INCREDIBLE sports decade: they've had a championship in all 4 major sports. If I were a 15 year-old Bostonian, somebody would have to pull me aside and warn me, "It's not always going to be like this."
2. Boston has lost five consecutive Stanley Cup finals heading into this one: running into a dynasty, a juggernaut or a transcendent player who would not be denied, each time: The Broad Street Bullies, the '70s Canadiens, the Gretzky and then Messier Oilers were their last opponents. The only Hockey team that's been snakebitten more are the Philadelphia Flyers.
3. It hurts me to say it, but Vancouver did not deserve to win this year's Stanley Cup. Not the way they played in Boston. Not with a goalie who got pulled twice in the finals. Not with the Sedins and Ryan Kesler all going silent during the finals. Not with all the biting, barking, and gamesmanship they partook in. Not after taking Boston's top goal-scorer out of the series. This series was a lesson in class and sports karma. Sorry to say it, Vancouver. Comport yourselves better next year, and try again.
4. Tim Thomas deserved to win. I don't know about the rest of the Bruins, but Tim Thomas did something incredible these playoffs, and my hat's off to him. Did he have a single weak game? He also gave Vancouver and Roberto Luongo respect in his postgame interview (though not in the pre-game shootaround). He is officially in my good books, and I'll root for him any time he's not up against Team Canada, the Canucks, or a Canadian team. The most memorable moment of these finals was probably when he bodychecked a Sedin in front of the net. He owned, pure and simple.
5. Even if Vancouver HAD won, Luongo and the Sedins still would have faced question marks, given the way they played in the finals. If your superheroes don't step up, what did you think was going to happen?
6. I can never feel TOO bad when an Original Six hockey team wins a championship. That's good for hockey's heritage in the long run.
My hockey rooting hierarchy goes like this:
B. Other Canadian Teams (in this order: Calgary [until Iginla retires/moves; then they'll move back into a tie with...] Edmonton, Leafs/Canadiens [tie] Senators/Winnipugs)
C. Original Six Teams (Red Wings, Blackhawks, Bruins, Rangers, in that order)
D. Hard luck teams that have earned some success by going through a lot of heartbreak [Flyers, San Jose Sharks, with the caveat below]; also: great players who have never won the cup can fit in here. I rooted for Ray Bourque... though not every player who jumps to a contender gets this free pass: sometimes they're front-runners and I root against them [see also: James, LeBron].)
E. The U.S. Teams my favorite Canadian players are playing on [Crosby's Penguins, Sakic's Avalanche and Yzerman's Red Wings as examples].
F. U.S. teams playing an interesting, exciting style of hockey, and whose existence predates 1990s expansion, and who have cool, knowledgeable fans.
And the teams I actively root against:
G. Sun belt teams. Hockey doesn't belong in Nashville, Atlanta, or Florida. California deserves one team, not three. Maybe two, if the fans are loyal and knowledgeable. I was SO choked when a Florida team took the cup from Calgary, and then a Carolina team took it from Edmonton, and then a California team took it from Ottawa, three finals in a row. I get conflicted when Canadian players dominate on sun-belt teams (Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, and Carolina Hurricanes' cup wins were cases of this; currently, the San Jose Sharks stir up mixed feelings in me) - why can't those boys bring their talents (and the cup) back home? At least Vancouver lost to an original six team, and not to the Phoenix Coyotes, who stole their team from Winnipeg, or the Orlando WhyDoWeHaveATeamHere's, or the Mexico City Chinchillas.
H. Teams that stole their franchises from Canada. Now that Sakic's not with the Avalanche, I wish them nothing but ill for stealing a team from Quebec City. Wayne Gretzky is diminished in my mind for taking part in Phoenix, a team stolen from Winnipeg. To a lesser degree, this also goes for the Dallas Stars, who stole their team from Minnesota, a state that deserves hockey. This one is mitigated by the fact Minnesota has a team again; I MIGHT forgive Phoenix if Winnipeg gets another team... but probably not Gretzky.
and most of all...
I. Whichever team Chris Pronger is playing for. I hate that guy, and I want to see his team lose. Every time I see him in a game (except when he's on Team Canada) I root for him to get injured in the most embarrassing way possible - to tear an ACL because his skate hits a groove in the ice, or to lose a fight to somebody half his size and break his cheekbone, or to break his hip while scoring an own goal - I friggin' hate that guy. Ever since he sold Edmonton out the offseason after they reached the finals, moved to California, and helped beat the Senators for the cup the next season, with his defection sending the Oilers (always a team I've liked) on a spiral from which they haven't yet recovered.
7. Canadian teams are now on a 5 finals losing streak: Since the Canadiens won in 1993, it's been Vancouver '94, Flames '04, Oilers '06, Senators '07 and Canucks '11. This is unfriggingbelievable. Next thing you know the Leafs are going to make the finals just so they can get their stomachs punched, too.
8. Vancouver's fans stayed in the arena to cheer for the champs after the game. Classy of them. Especially compared to Miami's fans, who were filing out of the arena with five minutes left in game six of the Heat/Mavericks final.
9. WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED TO THE RESILIENT TEAM THAT BEAT NASHVILLE AND SAN JOSE? Weren't, like, all the games in the second and third round come from behind wins? How did the team become so mentally brittle once they made the finals? Can't come from behind? Can't play a good road game? WTF, Vancouver?
10. I hope the Bruins have an escape route planned, that takes them directly from the arena to the airport. Sounds like things are getting a little rowdy in Vancouver.
It was a good season, and a great run. It's too bad things shook out how they did, and Vancouver embarrassed themselves in the finals, both on the ice, and in the press conferences. If I were Vancouver's coach, I'd demand all my players do a Mark Cuban next playoffs. I'm sad Vancouver lost, but I'm glad they didn't win like this, and I hope they can pull something even better (and classier) together next season, before their window closes...
OK. I'm finished. I feel (a little) better now.
Great run. Here's to next season.