Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ll have seen Vancouver and the biggest hockey game of the year hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Wednesday night was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, with the Vancouver Canucks hosting the Boston Bruins in an all-or-nothing battle for the Cup. Game 7’s are always going to be tense, but when the Stanley Cup is the prize the stakes are most definitely raised. Add the constant reminders of the riots that took over the city last time the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final in 1994, and you can pretty much guarantee that Wednesday night was never going to end well.
I watched the game with a group of friends on the outdoor screens in the gated area of the CBC Plaza. It started at 5pm, and the seating area was full of fans soaking up the sunshine from lunchtime. At 5pm capacity had been reached, the gates were closed and queues of people were turned away. At 5:20pm the puck dropped, and thousands of fans followed tradition and sat down on their blankets and lawn chairs to watch the action. Except hundreds more people remained standing at the front, angering those who could no longer see the screens. There was shouting, there was throwing things, there was more people standing up to get a better view. And then the gates re-opened and yet more people spilled into the plaza, taking up every available space. Every available space included roofs of buildings, billboards, trees and the tops of porta-potties. The walkways running through the seating area were quickly blocked with people, and the CBC security guards soon gave up trying to shift them and started taking photos instead.
Those of you with the misfortune to be friends with me on Facebook or to follow me on Twitter will be well aware that I have developed somewhat of an addiction to hockey. In particular, the Vancouver Canucks. To avoid any confusion at the outset, I’m not talking about the kind of hockey I used to play on a muddy field with the other girls at grammar school. Far from it. Think more large bearded men with oversized jerseys slamming each other into screens, ice and each other.
There is more to hockey than fighting of course. Sometimes there’s even a puck involved. Stereotypes aside, when watching my first hockey game in our local bar I was surprised to see how much more there is to hockey than fists and fights. It’s a super fast game and the players are incredibly talented. So much can happen in a minute, thirty seconds or even 10 seconds, and the tension felt by fans in the final moments of a crucial game cannot be explained with words.
Although the UK heat wave and the Royal Wedding are trying to convince me otherwise, I seem to have come to Vancouver at a great time after all. The regular NHL (National Hockey League) finishes in April and is immediately followed by the playoffs, which end in the ultimate East vs West competition: The Stanley Cup final. The playoff structure is complex to say the least, and involves seeded teams competing in up to four series, each of which is decided by best of 7 games. And there’s me thinking that the second leg of a football game was unnecessary. I never fail to be impressed with the dedication of hockey fans as teams in the playoffs are in action nearly every 48 hours for up to 6 weeks, and that’s after finishing a regular season of 82 games in 6 months.