This year, I went to a Canadiens-Bruins game. I didn’t grow up on hockey, so I never really understood the rivalry, but I did after the game. More than just dislike, there was a distinct hatred in the air. Maybe it was because the rivalry represents an international competition. Whatever it was, the shouts and chants were as vicious and audible as I had heard in Boston.
Never had I seen a player be the victim of those chants as much as P.K. Subban. Every time he touched the puck boos echoed. So when I was following the NHL draft, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the Bruins selected Malcolm Subban with the 24th overall pick.
I love those type of moves. When the Patriots signed Jake Ballard, I jumped with glee at the trivial jab the Pats took at the Giants. It meant nothing, but why not try to get under a rival’s skin? Isn’t that the point of sports? But both P.K. and Malcolm revealed their true colors as they embraced at the news of Malcolm being selected. There was no apprehension, no moments of half-smiles. P.K. hugged his brother with such authenticity it was impossible to hate him. In that moment, he was a brother, and I think it’s important to keep that sort of perspective.
Grown men spend months trying to find a way to anger and frustrate their rivals, and it never looked as petty as the five seconds P.K. hugged Malcolm. Whatever mind games were being played were irrelevant. A kid who’s wanted to play in the NHL got a chance to do just that. Do you think he cares about rivalries? He worked his whole life to get to that moment, and when it finally came, both of those brothers would be damned if they weren’t going to celebrate vehemently.
For most teams, two straight Presidents Cups would be an indicator of success, it would mean those two years were good years. For the Canucks, it’s a reminder of what truly matters in hockey. It’s a reminder of a city scorned by self-loathing. What else could explain violent riots after a loss in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup finals? It’s a reminder of the zero championships the Canucks have won. It’s a reminder that they’re the only Canadian franchise other than the Senators to have never won the cup, and that the Senators were only founded in 1992, while the Canucks entered the NHL in 1970. Finally, It’s also a reminder of just how awful losing feels, and how hard they must work to take advantage of another golden opportunity to win the championship.
With injured Daniel Sedin returning, the Canucks face the Kings in what should be a relatively simple series for them. Obviously there are no easy playoff series in hockey, but the Canucks have established themselves as one of the top two teams in hockey. They’ve proven they could win on the big stage and their roster is Heat-like in it’s talent. However for the Canucks, nothing will satiate their desire to win other than that final obstacle.
Last year, they were so close! The Bruins entered Vancouver as underdogs, over-matched and under-talented for a road game in Canada. The Canucks lost to the Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1982 and again to the Rangers in 1994. They were ready to finally beat a big market American hockey team, one of the original six, however the loss sent Vancouver into a rage. Photos of screaming fans throwing Molotov cocktails through windows surfaced, epitomizing the uncontrollable and shameful rage that filled residents so invested in their sports team that they didn’t care how the rest of the world perceived them. We’ve all experienced the sensation. When our sports allegiances are tested, we say and do things we don’t mean. It’s an oddly obsessive commitment we make to our teams. For Vancouver, a hockey championship has began to represent a fleeting pride in identity and a sense of nationalism, and the longer the Canucks go without winning a Stanley Cup the longer Vancouver represents the opposite of what they want.
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