Behind Enemy Lines: 25 Hours In Vancouver
The first sign (literally) that I was in Vancouver.
In 36 hours, I was on 4 flights in 2 states, 1 province and 2 countries. On each of the flights, I traveled stand by. I’m tired and spent too much money, but it was entirely worth it.
Living in Lincoln, Nebraska it’s pretty hard for me to get my NHL fix. In September I drove 3 hours to watch a preseason game in Kansas City between the Avalanche and the Kings. I work during the afternoon and night so I miss a lot of games.
As a Hawks fan, I wanted to get a chance to see them this year. I saw them at the UC against the Ducks this year, but pretty much all I’ve seen has been on TV. It’s also hard to find a good group of people to watch games with. In fairness, I must say the Hockey community in Nebraska is much stronger than expected. The Lincoln Stars and Omaha Lancers draw well, the Tri City Storm were just subject of a behind the scenes story on the news, and Dean Blais has the Nebraska-Omaha program going in the right direction. But still, it’s not the same.
I decided for a while that I was going to see the Hawks play in Vancouver for quite a while. Why Vancouver? Cool city (when not burned), good crowd, nice arena and (for the moment anyway) a good rivalry. I had only seen the Hawks outside of Chicago once, 2009 against St. Louis, and that was only by chance. The Hawks lost 1-0.
So how did this come about and was it expensive? Well I have a buddy who is a pilot for an airline and can get his friend cheap stand by fares. So after looking at the schedule, open seats and the heavily reduced fare, I decided to go for it. I then secured tickets by digging on Craigslist and talking with a friend who lives there we found some tickets in the lower level.
Tuesday is when the adventure started. After getting home late from work, I somehow took more than 10 minutes to pack for a two night trip. However I got a text from my high school friend Bridget who was going to the game, so at least I wouldn’t be the only Hawks fan I know up there. All day I had been thinking about how I had an 8 AM flight out of Omaha, about 45 minutes from my apartment. I also knew that I had time to sleep on the plane. So after all this, I settled on a 2 and a half hour power nap on my couch.
After a shower and a Jimmy Dean’s sandwich I was off to Omaha. Shockingly, the traffic at 5 AM in Nebraska was pretty non-existent, so I got to the airport in plenty of time. I approached the US Air counter where I received my first relief of the day: both of the flights I was getting on that day were relatively empty. I purchased a neck pillow, got on the plane (where I was greeted with my own row) and preceded to fall asleep for the duration of the flight.
I arrived in Phoenix to find way too many tequila bars for an airport and quite possibly the worst set up airport in the history of the world. I took several crowded moving walkways, made a few turns and ended up at the ticket counter. After squeezing my way through the tons of people I got another ticket and again another row I was (officially) on my way to Vancouver, still sound asleep.
I landed in a rainy, overcast city around 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon. I then got to do the best part of traveling internationally: clearing customs. My interaction went something like this.
“What are you here for?”
“Just the day, visiting a friend.”
“You came here just for a day?
“Yeah. Were going to the game.”
“The Canucks game.”
“How do you know your friend?”
“We went to University together.”
“Ok. Have a nice day.”
“You too, pal.”
The worst part about all this is that the guy wasn’t a Mountie either. Come to think of it, I didn’t see any Mounties on the entire trip. Some stereotype, Canada.
It was a 25 minute minute trip from the airport to the hostel where I was staying. My hostel was on Granville street, which seemed to be bar and party central for the city. It was also mere feet from the Roxy, aka the bar that made Shane O’Brien famous. I checked into my room to find it was a little cramped in a room of six, but at this point I was the only one there. I put my bags down and headed out to the arena to check things out.
(My room for the night. I didn't die, at least.)
After getting a little settled (aka buying a lock) I took a 20 minute walk down hill to the Rogers Arena, to get a vibe of the area. The arena was small in comparison to the BC Place next door. It also looked pretty cramped, as it was right up against a ramp. The arena was covered in Canucks banners (guess they recovered from the loss of the Grizzlies) and was only accessible this early in the afternoon by going down stairs. I noticed a few scalpers hanging out around the arena, which was interesting considering it was only four hours until the game. Then again, they’re scalpers so it all made sense.
Knowing full well I wouldn’t buy anything, I decided to check out the Canucks team store. Among the hilarious items were the dolls of the Sedins. Please let these haunt your dreams for years to come.
At this point, I decided to do the most typical things for an American to do in Vancouver: go to Japadog and Tim Hortons. In fairness, both of them lived up to their hype.
After another power nap, I met up with my friend, grabbed some beers and it was off to the game. This is when I first encountered expensive beer in British Colombia. I mean it was 10 dollars for a 6 pack of PBR. But really, it wouldn’t be a trip to Canada without drinking some of the cheapest Canadian beer I could find. It was awesome.
We walked up to the arena, I was getting a few looks but nothing more from fans. This could have been for me deciding to go with a Bolland jersey while there. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, by wearing that, you totally knew what you were getting yourself into!” Well believe it or not, at 4 AM I wasn’t putting much thought into my trolling, it just happened this way. At this point, I realized it would be a long night. But I expected that going into the trip.
A major plus when getting into Rogers Arena was receiving a free program about the game! Oh, but when it unfolded, we got a poster of Alex Burrows. Very funny, hockey gods.
We took our seats at the top of the lower-bowl in the corner where the Hawks shot twice and grabbed a couple of Stanley Park beers with the tops on top of them (way to think ahead, people) and settled in for the intros and anthem. The people around me didn’t seem thrilled with the U2 intro which took something along the lines of 20 minutes (felt longer). Now the anthem was by far the most disappointing part of the night. We got there early expecting that it would be the fat, opera singing Ron Jeremy, but no. It was some guy who played the greatest song ever recorded on a harmonica. Really? Seeing as how I brought my American flag to the game I was excited to hear the anthem. However, I found it hard to display the 50 stars and 13 stripes while hearing the Star Spangled Banner on harmonica.
As we waited for puck to drop a guy wearing a Hawks jersey happened to sit next to me. He was from Crystal Lake and happened to live in Vancouver now. So at least I had somebody else I could rationally support my team with.
Most of the game considered of a lot of friendly banter between myself and the thousands of Canucks fans around me. It’s easy to make fun of other teams for paranoia, but when Ballard (aka the Shame of Omaha) got called for the clip, it didn’t help that the people around me were expecting a makeup call several times but never exactly came. It became pretty obvious the refs were going to swallow their whistles.
It didn’t help when Vancouver got on the board first, but at least it was Kesler getting the goal. It just showed that the Canucks can’t get by without help from a good American. And don’t think this is something I stopped reminding people of again. Looking around, it did seem like Kesler was the main jersey Canucks fans wore during the game, so at least they’re doing that right. Even after Mayers scored, at least I got to embrace the fact that he’s an American citizen.
One slight problem I had was Vancouver fans overreacting to the Bolland quotes form a few months ago. I get a feeling that you could get away with wearing certain jerseys but Bolland wasn’t going to be one of them. He was getting booed by a small few every time he touched the puck, but it was still notable. I was also greeted with several “OH, BOLLAND, HOW CAN YOU GET THAT GUY???” Then again, I didn’t get a jersey of the GM. Or this:
The vibe around the Arena changed during the second period. I remember Puck Daddy once describing the scene in Vancouver as more of a Mardi Gras feel and during the first period it certainly felt like that. After all, the Canucks had been playing well, the Blackhawks haven’t (Note: still true) and there was plenty of love to go around for Cory Schneider. The second period the tide turned and in the last 10 minutes the atmosphere came a lot more subdued. Even with the game being 1-1 you knew the game would be tight, but everybody felt like there were more goals to come.
After meeting up with Bridget, we decided it was a good idea in our states of mind to go meet the Green Men. However, we quickly realized that a. this was a bad idea and b. that because those two re just (probably) typical spoiled kids who use dad’s seats to sit on the glass, that it wouldn’t be happening. I’m sure I will have other chances to meet people who rip off Always Sunny at given moments in my life.
After Stalberg scored to open the third, there was kinda there “here we go again” vibe going around the building. And it really felt like that. Watching the game you just felt like the Hawks had so many chances to blow it open and that, eventually, it would happen. But hockey is a funny game, and the bounce off the stick led to the Hodgson goal. As you can imagine this led to several “HODGSON, ROOKIE OF THE YEAR!” chats, with me realizing that nobody cares.
The only real negative event that happened during the game was when he Hawks hit the post late in the game. I stood up (keep in mind we were in the last row of the bowl and the sky boxes were still well above us) and I was pointing to the goal thinking the puck went in. At this point, I had a few ice cubes thrown at me by somebody I couldn’t figure out. I wasn’t really bothered though. I’ve been obnoxious at sporting events before (A minor league manager once told me to go flip burgers) so the fact that just a few cubes of ice were thrown at me, I moved on with me life. Then I realized how wrong I was, I sucked it up and shut up and sat down.
The tension kept growing and Canucks fans were still waiting for the all important makeup call that never came. Well, you could argue the non-call on Stalberg in OT could have been that (Though not like the PP was any good). Eventually, the twins were the Twins and the game was over in OT. This led to me saying “Canucks winning with Sedins scoring? Man, you really know it must not be the playoffs.” Shockingly, this was greeted with some laughter. I then proudly displayed my American flag (backwards) and took a bad picture.
We took a quick walk back to the hotel, changed out of the sweater and headed to the always legendary and classy Roxy. I changed out of my sweater as we got there, but realized that there was a large majority of people still wearing those. I decided to fit in so I went back and put the Bolland jersey back on (If you’ve actually met me before, you would say that is the most typical thing I’ve ever done, aside from playing Kid Rock at crowded bars). On the short walk back to my hostel, I found a legend of Granville Street: Spoons. If you don’t know who Spoons is, he’s a guy that roams the streets and plays songs using various (you guessed it) spoons. This always makes for an entertaining time. Naturally, I had to give him a few coins which amounted to several dollars.
Even though I was shocked not to see Shane O’Brien at the Roxy, it was still a good time. There were plenty of Hawks fans to be found, Canucks fans to talk to, joke around with and have a few drinks with well into the morning. This is even more impressive considering the fact it was a Tuesday. I was impressed with most of the fans I had run into. There’s plenty of reasons to be upset with Hawks fans which means it’s hard to know what to expect. But most people will sit down with you, have a few beers and shoot the shit. That or maybe I just got lucky with the people I met. The live music, good crowd and friendly people all led to it being a fun night. With a night like this, it was easy to get over the loss.
(Bridget and I at the Roxy, just another well taken picture that)
After going to bed in an empty room and waking up in a full one, I checked out and took in the rest of Vancouver with a cup of Tim Horton’s in hand. It’s really easy to make fun of the city due to a lack of a Cup and the way the city reacted last year. But it was a great city. Clean, nice people and you cannot beat that location. I would definitely recommend to anybody to go to the city if you get a shot. The riot jokes are easy to make but there’s always something to do, good food and drink and a place that loves to watch hockey.
So is the rivalry still there? Absolutely, but it’s not something I feel I can hate due to a majority of the fans or the city (See: Detroit) but on the ice there is still no more reason to like the Canucks. But off the ice, it’s always good to find knowledgeable fans who love the game like most people you'd expect to meet from Canada. There’s a lot worse places to watch a game. After all, for the most part there are plenty of good memories of wins over that team. And I'll still be mad at the guy who wore a Burrows jersey to Wrigley the day before game 6 last year.
Also, just wanted to say thanks to Eden, John, Bridget and Nora for helping make the trip a success. Let’s do it again some time.