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Brace for the Pain
First, know this: it's not easy being a fan of the Canucks. Though the modern Canucks have shed the doormat status they toiled in for their first 20 years, it's fair to say that the greatest moments in franchise history remain near misses, marred by civic catastrophe. Oh, and there were the losses.
Throughout Vancouver's history, few teams in the National Hockey League have been defeated with such regularity. Among the league's 30 teams, only recent expansion outfits Florida, Columbus, and Tampa Bay have a lower regular-season winning percentage.
And then there's the heartbreak. The Canucks have been to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals twice. And they've lost, twice. No other NHL team has done that.
There's something grim — yet appropriate — about those high-profile losses, and the higher-profile riots that followed. What makes being a Canucks fan so difficult, after all, isn't so much the losing or the scattered moments of public embarrassment. It's the repetition.
Some of the best Canucks stories involve patterns of hard luck and failure — patterns that often repeat, as history is wont to do. Like, say, trading a franchise icon to the Florida Panthers. Or, say, a gruff American head coach forcing a beloved player out the door. Often, bad things in Canucks history have happened in twos, so bracing for pain is inherently crucial to the experience. Longtime supporters not only know that things will go badly but also when they'll go badly. They can generally spot catastrophe from several kilometers out.
If there's one thing, then, that should be on every Canucks fan's bucket list, it's to make peace with the masochistic nature of fandom. It's an essential survival skill, necessary to preserve sanity. So how does one achieve the Buddhist-style detachment required to root for the Canucks? It helps to have a support group.
Though we — the authors of this book — have both grown up into objective adult professionals (depending on whom you talk to) we have also been die-hard Canucks fans for the better part of our lives. And many of our lifelong friends — not to mention fans we interact with in the digital realm — talk regularly about the possibility of dying without seeing Vancouver win the Stanley Cup. It's a grim subject for sure, but it's also a shared experience. A singular connection that serious Canucks fans will always have with one another.
One can detect evident dark pleasure — gallows humor, if you will — when Canucks fans recall their darkest moments. Nathan LaFayette's shot ringing off the post. Jonathan Toews' game-tying shorthanded goal. The first five minutes of Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. Whatever the case, there's a willingness to nurture a collective wound, if only for the way it binds Vancouver hockey fans together.
That social element, that shared experience, is what hockey fandom is all about. Professional sports are entertainment, the "toy department of life," as legendary NBA coach Pat Riley famously put it. And it should be noted that this most recent generation of Vancouver's hockey fans — you lucky, lucky souls — have now genuinely been treated to some quality hockey over the past two decades.
Quite truly, the Canucks have gone from being "the L.A. Clippers of the NHL" to being a model franchise. In terms of revenue, the organization consistently ranks in the top five and, on the ice, has enjoyed a tremendous run of success. This will play a major role in this book. We'll relive some great moments and hear from some of the characters and power players who keyed the franchise's maturation. And we hope our unique experiences growing up with the franchise will allow us to shed some new light on some familiar stories, and offer fresh perspective on some of the greatest and most memorable moments in Canucks history.
Despite the litany of disappointments, this team has forged a deep connection with the city of Vancouver. It's an idiosyncratic and unconventional hockey market in one of Canada's most idiosyncratic and unconventional cities. So perhaps the connection hasn't been forged in spite of, but because of, the unique spirit of fatalism so peculiar to local fans. Maybe bracing for pain is secretly part of the fun.
Vancouver Has Long Been a Center of Hockey Innovation
Not that you need a reminder this early in the book, but the Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup. That said, more than 100 years ago a Vancouver-based pro team did manage to win hockey's ultimate prize.
The Vancouver Millionaires won the first Stanley Cup contested by teams outside Canada in 1915. Founded by Frank Patrick, the Millionaires began playing in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911. Frank; his brother, Lester; and their father, Joseph, started the PCHA and ran it as a successful business for 15 years.
In 1907 Joseph — who had come to Nelson, BC, after running a general store in Drummondville, Quebec — sold his business, Patrick Lumber Company, for just shy of $500,000. Joseph's sons, Lester and Frank, were talented hockey players based in Montreal, with Frank playing at McGill University while Lester played for a Montreal Wanderers team that won the Stanley Cup. (During the Challenge Cup era, the Stanley Cup was contested several times per year. The Millionaires won the Stanley Cup in the first year it began to be awarded annually.)
In terms of raw purchasing power, the money from the sale of Patrick Lumber Company would be worth more than $11 million today, a relatively pedestrian amount, but it was enough for Joseph and his sons to embark on a grand project — the PCHA — that would change the trajectory of professional hockey. The inaugural season began in 1912, one year after the founding of the PCHA. Initially the league was comprised of three teams: the New Westminster Royals, the Victoria Senators, and the Vancouver Millionaires.
To facilitate games in Vancouver's mild climate, the Patricks built a "mechanically frozen" artificial ice surface at Denman and Georgia Streets. Back when Vancouver's picturesque Coal Harbour meant exactly that — a harbor of coal — the Denman Arena in Vancouver was a marvel of modern engineering and the first indoor, permanent hockey rink of its kind.
At the time of its construction, the Denman Arena had the capacity to seat 10,500 people, making it one of North America's largest coliseums. The Denman Arena quickly became an important meeting place in the city, hosting everything, including the opera, boxing, evangelist preachers, and public skating. In some ways, the arena helped drive the urban development of downtown Vancouver.
"It was a magnet for entertainment," hockey historian Craig Bowley told Joe Pelletier. "It was probably the most important cultural center in the city. If you look at the city at this time, you see a big block of wood [and] you wonder what it's doing there. It was used for everything." (Though the arena was originally constructed of wood, it was retrofitted with brick in 1936 so it would better withstand the threat of fire. Ironically, the arena burned to the ground later that same year.)
Beyond the technical and cultural innovation of an indoor rink with a mechanically frozen surface, the Patricks — who were businessmen first and foremost — came up with the idea to put numbers on the backs of players' sweaters to make individuals more easily recognizable and marketable. In recent years we've seen Vancouver often — and incorrectly — portrayed as being somehow "outside" the traditional historical hockey sphere, but the fact is a lot of simple things regarding the appearance and facilitation of the contemporary game can be traced to the West Coast.
Of the Patrick boys, Lester was a more shrewd innovator. While Frank managed and played for Vancouver's franchise, Lester was the steward of the PCHA's Victoria-based club, which was first named the Senators, then the Aristocrats, and eventually the Cougars.
It was Lester who pioneered the forward pass and the blue line. Tactically, he was the first to allow his goaltenders to dive onto the ice to stop shots and cut off the bottom of the ice. In all, Lester advocated for several rule changes that were adopted internationally and are still reflected in the modern game.
During the Millionaires' run, 13 future Hall of Fame players dressed for the club, including legendary Montreal Canadiens forward Newsy Lalonde and Detroit Red Wings coach Jack Adams, for whom the NHL's Coach of the Year Award is named.
Jack Adams played one year for the Millionaires before moving to the Victoria-based PCHA franchise and winning the Stanley Cup in 1925. When the Patrick family folded their western-based hockey league — the PCHA had merged into the WCHL in 1924 — and sold their players and teams east for $300,000, the Cougars relocated to Detroit and eventually were renamed the Red Wings.
Cyclone Taylor: The Man and the Myth
Though the PCHA and WCHL were both the Patricks' show — Frank was a player, coach, and owner — the Millionaires player whose name even still reverberates in Vancouver is Fred "Cyclone" Taylor. Taylor was the team's biggest star and is honored annually by the Canucks, who award the Cyclone Taylor Trophy to their team MVP. His name is also recognizable to Vancouver hockey fans for the eponymous hockey equipment retailer, Cyclone Taylor Sports, which has four locations across the lower mainland.
Taylor bridges Vancouver's ancient and contemporary hockey history, and lived to see the inauguration of the Canucks NHL franchise. At the first Canucks team's first home game on October 9, 1970, the 87-year-old Taylor was introduced during a pregame ceremony as "Vancouver's hockey man of the century."
The response to Taylor was in stark contrast to what the fans had given then–Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell, who Canucks fans booed "out of habit," according to Vancouver Sun reporter Denny Boyd. Taylor's introduction, meanwhile, was met with "tumultuous cheers."
An Identity Forged in Obscurity
High-level professional hockey was absent from the Vancouver market for 44 years after the Maroons and the West Coast Hockey League departed. Somewhat ironically, it was during these lean years that a unique Canucks identity was forged.
A variety of minor league clubs populated the city throughout the 1930s and '40s, often playing in the Vancouver Forum, in mostly forgotten circuits such as the Northwest Hockey League or the Western Canadian Hockey League.
In 1945 Vancouver had a team named the Canucks. The club debuted in the Pacific Coast Hockey League and was owned and managed by a tough-talking hotelier named Coleman E. "Coley" Hall, who would eventually become a minority owner of the NHL Canucks.
The PCHL Canucks began recruiting players just 10 days before their first season started. Those players — 12 in total — mostly comprised World War II veterans and working Joes playing for beer money. The most notable name on the roster was Bernie Bathgate, whose brother, Andy, ended up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The original Canucks traveled in beat-up limos, with the players taking turns as chauffeurs. Players were each given three dollars to spend on meals when the club was on the road, and all thought it was a grand deal. It was professional hockey but minor league professional hockey, a massive step down from the grandeur of the NHL.
The Canucks won the PCHL championship that first year, and again in 1948. In 1952 the Canucks joined the Western Hockey League, adding four more titles before joining the NHL in 1970.
In many ways, the early identity of the Canucks was forged during these seasons. The PCHL team used the iconic Johnny Canuck logo on one of their sweaters, and another included the word Canucks emblazoned on the chest — in similar fashion to the club's contemporary blue Vancouver sweater. Yet another Canucks jersey used by the PCHL club included a flying V, albeit with a significantly toned-down blue-and-red color scheme.
After transitioning to the WHL, Vancouver was able to attract a variety of future NHL stars and Canucks executives. Orland Kurtenbach, who went on to captain Vancouver's inaugural teams and coach the club in the late 1970s, played a season in 1958. Phil Maloney, who eventually became the Canucks' general manager and guided the team to its first-ever playoff berth, starred on the teams that regularly won WHL championships.
There was also an abundance of talent in-net. Johnny Bower, Gump Worsley, Tony Esposito, and Bruce Gamble spent time with the WHL Canucks, as did future New York Rangers coach Emile Francis.
In addition, Jim Robson, who took over as the play-by-play announcer for the WHL teams in the 1950s, went on to become the voice of the NHL Canucks for generations of fans.
It wasn't big-league hockey, but at the time Vancouver didn't really view itself as a big-league city. Even after Hockey Night in Canada debuted on television in 1952, Vancouverites didn't exactly harbor mature ambitions of competing against the likes of the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. It wasn't long before that all changed.
The Name Game
Here is a list of the names of professional minor league or semiprofessional minor league teams that played in Vancouver in the 1930s and 1940s:
The Ex-King George
The Maple Leafs
The Young Liberals
The Canucks Got a Franchise Over Smythe's Dead Body
In August 1964 Toronto Maple Leafs president Stafford Smythe, the heir to Maple Leaf Gardens, touched down in Vancouver with a plan. Smythe wanted the city to grant him an attractive two-block piece of downtown real estate that included the old bus depot at Seymour and Dunsmuir Streets. The property was valued at $2.5 million, but he only wanted to pay a token $1 amount. In return, Smythe promised he'd build an $8 million 20,000-seat arena within two years. He'd also throw in, as part of the deal, the goodwill of Toronto's voting block when it came time for the NHL to discuss expansion.
There was little disagreement about the city's need for a new arena. The Vancouver Forum was dingy, even in comparison to some of the other WHL rinks. When legendary comedian Bob Hope described the old Forum as "one of the nicest garages I've ever played in," most Vancouverites just nodded. If Vancouver was ever to attract an NHL team, the city needed a more suitable barn.
The arena proposal exposed nerves in Vancouver's psyche. The attention from a major NHL figure, as Denny Boyd put it, "inflamed the hockey passions" of the dormant West Coast market. When Smythe landed with his plan and architectural model of Vancouver Gardens, he brought with him the "realization that perhaps Vancouver had been too long in the hockey boondocks, that perhaps the city had big-league potential and that perhaps the NHL might some day open the golden gates to another Canadian team."
Talk of a new arena, though, was complicated. Everyone agreed the Forum was insufficient, and most agreed it would be a thrill to host regular NHL hockey in Vancouver. But nobody could agree on where the new arena should be located — much less how to pay for its construction.
Even before Smythe arrived, the debate pitted powerful interests against one another. The Pacific National Exhibition, unsurprisingly, wanted a new stadium to be built on its grounds, like the Forum was. The Downtown Business Association, as its name might imply, wanted a multipurpose downtown arena and had a proposal at the ready.
The debate became quite vocal, with politicians and hockey dignitaries of all stripes chiming in publicly. Showing genuine foresight, then–Vancouver mayor William Rathje thought the plan to give away $2 million of prime downtown land to "anyone" was something he couldn't do. Instead, Rathje proposed the city offer Smythe an extended 125-year lease. BC premier W.A.C. Bennett, meanwhile, backed Smythe by offering generous tax incentives.
Excerpted from "100 Things Canucks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die"
Copyright © 2017 Thomas Drance and Mike Halford.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by John Garrett,
1. Brace for the Pain,
2. Vancouver Has Long Been a Center of Hockey Innovation,
3. An Identity Forged in Obscurity,
4. The Canucks Got a Franchise Over Smythe's Dead Body,
5. The Big Fumble,
6. The Purchase,
7. Sticker Shock,
8. The Problem with Carpetbaggers,
9. The Ballad of Bud Poile,
10. Black Tuesday,
11. The Canucks Got the Best of the 1970 Expansion Draft — and It Didn't Matter,
12. How the Canucks Failed Dale Tallon,
13. Quinn Had a Smart Trick for Making Vets Look Good at Training Camp,
14. The Canucks' First Franchise Victory Was Over the Maple Leafs,
15. The Early Teams Were Unbelievably Dysfunctional,
16. From Laycoe to Stasiuk to McCreary, and All the Dysfunction in Between,
17. Orland Kurtenbach Was a Stone-Cold Badass,
18. The Original Owner of the Canucks Stole $3 Million from the Team,
19. Vancouver's Hockey Fans: A Rambunctious History,
20. All It Took for the Canucks to Make the Playoffs Was a Division Change ... and a Grenade,
21. The Good Times, They Never Last,
22. Shaky Jake and the European Invasion,
23. Reasonably Good Players but a Bad Team,
24. Why You Couldn't Help but Admire Stan Smyl,
25. Milford Gave Away the Refrigerator but "Had Lots of Ice",
26. "Fight Like a Bastard",
27. The Unlikely King,
28. The Battle of Quebec,
29. The Miracle Run,
30. The First Series Win,
31. Clutch and Grab: Silencing the Three Crowns,
32. White Towel: The Game God Couldn't Have Refereed,
33. The First Canucks Fever,
34. Watt a Pity: How Vancouver Missed Out on Two Elite Power Forwards,
35. From Neely to Lucic: The Butterfly Effect of a Historically Bad Move,
36. "Respectability for the Team",
38. Burke the Bludgeon,
39. Quinn Assembled an Elite Young Core, Mostly on the Trade Market,
40. Steers and Cheers: How Trevor Linden Knew He'd Be a Canuck,
41. Even Linden Doesn't Fully Understand How He Forged Such a Deep Connection with Vancouver's Hockey Fans,
42. Quinn and Uncle Cliff: The Negotiations for the KLM Line,
43. Culture Shock: On the NHL Experiences of Krutov and Larionov,
44. Yes, Joel Otto Kicked It In,
45. Mike Penny's Fateful Christmas Day Scouting Trip,
46. The Controversial Drafting of Bure,
47. We'll Probably Never Know For Sure How the Canucks Proved Bure Was Draft Eligible,
48. Quinn Was a Coach First and Foremost,
49. Clandestine Departures, a Sham Marriage, and a Michigan Arbiter: On Bure's Convoluted Path to the NHL,
50. The Debut,
51. Gino! Gino! Gino!,
53. 1991–92: The Canucks' First Winning Season,
54. Burke Leaves, McPhee and Nedved Arrive,
55. The Nedved Holdout,
56. Don't Fit the 1994 Team for Glass Slippers,
57. The Adjustment,
58. April 26, 1994,
59. Overtime: "The Save" and the Hook Pass,
61. Greg Adams! Greg Adams! Greg Adams!,
62. The Best Game in Franchise History,
63. LaFayette and the Final Gasp,
64. The Riot,
65. Bure Didn't Threaten to Hold Out in the 1994 Playoffs,
66. The Canucks Could've — and Should've — Signed Wayne Gretzky,
67. Grand Larceny: How the Canucks Landed Markus Naslund,
68. Wooing Mark Messier,
69 Know Why Messier Is So Widely Detested by Canucks Fans,
70. Why 1997–98 Was Linden's Toughest Season,
71. Trading Blows: How Gino Odjick Got to Know Jason Strudwick,
72. Eat Like John Garrett (If You Dare!),
73. On Burke's Return, and the Start of a Rebuild,
74. Accept That We'll Never Know Exactly Why Bure Held Out,
75. Why the Bure Deal Wasn't as Bad as It Looked,
76. "Välkommen Till Laget",
77. The Dawn of the West Coast Express,
78. Dan Cloutier, the Flub, and the Importance of Playoff Success,
79. End of the Line: Steve Moore and Derailing the WCE,
80. The Return of Linden, Vancouver's Prodigal Son,
81. Make the Provies,
82. Dave Nonis Wasn't Successful but Was a Conservative Steward,
83. Gillis' New Approach to Winning in Vancouver,
84. Vancouver Came Close to Losing the Sedins in Free Agency,
85. A Doomed Extension: The Luongo Contract,
86. Cap Management Was a Crucial Part of the Success of the 2010–11 Team,
87. How Newell Brown and the 2010–11 Canucks Changed the Way Teams Enter the Zone on the Power Play,
88. Slaying the Dragon,
89. How Did "Slay the Dragon" Come to Be?,
90. Beast Mode,
91. Bieksa, the Stanchion, and the Guy Who Saw It All,
92. Everybody Hates Vancouver,
93. The Best-Laid Plans: Mitchell, Ballard, Baumgartner, and the Decimation of the Canucks Blueline,
94. The Riot, Part Two,
95. Become the Next Famous Superfan,
96. Play Fantasy Football with Roberto Luongo,
97. Boo Ryan Kesler,
98. Torts Reform,
99. Linden's Web,
100. How Rollie the Goalie Dug Up the Graveyard,