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STANLEY CUP VICTORY | Kevin Cullen

Rioters in Vancouver transformed disappointment into shame

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / June 17, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — I was standing a block away from Granville Street late Wednesday night when a kid wearing a Henrik Sedin jersey and a contorted face came running up, his hands balled into fists.

“Boston sucks!” he slurred.

I heartily agreed with him, trying desperately to sound like one of the MacKenzie Brothers, and he went away, kicking at the window of a TD Bank branch across the street. The sound of breaking glass echoed in the distance. The acrid smell of tear gas floated on the air.

The only surprise was that everybody seemed surprised. The bars along Granville were packed by 2 p.m. Wednesday, three hours before the puck was dropped at Rogers Arena for Game 7 between the Canucks and Bruins.

Some of the young people who filled the bars were more belligerent than happy. Then they all got loaded, and the chaos that followed was almost a foregone conclusion.

A family — a guy with his wife and two young kids — all wearing Bruins jerseys were walking down Granville a couple of hours before the game, and the 20-somethings who were in line for the bars yelled abuse at them. The little girl grabbed her father’s arm and looked like she was going to cry. Turns out they were from Alberta.

It should come as little surprise that a few hundred morons acted like lunatics when the Canucks lost. The game, the entire series, was hyped and talked about in apocalyptic terms.

Hockey is more than a game here. It’s a way of life, a passion embraced by anybody here with a pulse. The Canadian five-dollar bill has a picture of kids playing hockey on it.

They actually took a poll and found that 82 percent of British Columbians were excited about the Canucks. The other 18 percent are presumably dead. Or would be if they admitted what Courtney Burt did.

“I just don’t care about hockey,” said Burt, a bartender who left Wales in 1979. “I think I’m the only one in Vancouver who doesn’t like hockey.”

He’s not far off.

The Canucks owner, Francesco Aquilini, framed Game 7 in terms of national pride. He said the whole country had to be mobilized to cheer on the Canucks.

“This is a call to arms,” he said.

Nice choice of words there, Francesco. People used their arms to break windows, overturn cars, and attack the police.

The buildup to Game 7 was overwhelming and relentless. TV anchors wore Canucks jerseys on air. Half the population wore Canucks jerseys or T-shirts to work all week. The other half had Canucks flags flying from their cars. The buses flashed “Go Canucks” on their route signs. An old lady on Georgia Street showed me her Canucks tattoo. You don’t want to know where it is.

This was their destiny. The Vancouver Canucks hadn’t won the Stanley Cup in their 40 years as a franchise. You’d have to go back all the way to 1915, when the late, lamented Vancouver Millionaires brought the Cup back to the city where Lord Stanley’s statue stands in the city’s signature park.

The Canucks had the best regular-season record of any team in the NHL. Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is a national hero, having beaten the USA last year in the Olympics final, held here. But it turns out his five-hole is bigger than his mouth.

“This team is expected to win,” said John Garrett, a hockey analyst for Rogers Sportsnet. “Losing is ten times worse than [losing in] 1994.”

In 1994, when the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup finals to the New York Rangers, all hell broke loose here. But the city’s fathers said they learned from that. They had contingency plans. They brought cops in from neighboring towns. They ordered the liquor stores to close an hour before the game. But the gin mills were bursting.

Vancouverites were justifiably proud of the way the city hosted the Olympics. But yesterday they were embarrassed, by the way the Canucks went down without much of a fight and by the way the idiots downtown reacted on the streets.

Jimmy Chu, the city’s police chief, had vowed there would be no repeat of 1994. He said his force was ready for Wednesday night. But they looked woefully impotent as rioters lighted fires, trashed and looted stores, and turned cars over. I watched some kids burn a police car.

Dozens of the morons who were stupid enough to pose for photos on top of overturned cars will be prosecuted. Brain surgeons they ain’t.

Bostonians shouldn’t be smug. We’ve had people killed during post-game celebrations. But even the Canadian TV stations were comparing the jubilant but mostly orderly celebrations in Boston on Wednesday to the wanton destruction on the streets of this, one of North America’s most beautiful cities.

“It’s disgraceful,” said Robert Glass, who heads the Downtown Vancouver Association.

Not to be patronizing, but I felt sorry for people here, because they know their hockey and they love their city as much as their hockey team. The Indian taxi drivers know as much about hockey as they do cricket.

But 20 years from now, people won’t remember how close the Canucks came to winning the Cup. They’ll remember the riot.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com

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