Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Stanley Cup Final 2011
Clobber Samson

"It's just a matter of a few bounces and that's the difference. They (Carolina Hurricanes) were just a little bit better."

Jussi Markkanen, of the Edmonton "Oilers," 2006

At the start of the conference finals, CBC Radio had a news story about the fact that each of the teams remaining in the chase for Lord Stanley had either a player or an assistant coach from 'the Rock. The players were Ryoun Clowe, San Jose, Michael Ryder, Boston, and Teddy Purcell, Tampa. The assistant coach was Darryl Williams, Vancouver.

I doubt I'll forget one very young Newfoundlander's expressed excitement about that fact. "Lard 'dundering Jesus, buys,” anyway you tilted the screech, the Cup would be touring Newfoundland over the summer. It was more than the extremely thick accent.

It was enthusiasm. He might actually touch the hem of the garment of hockey's Holy Grail. That’s put a wee smile on my Landlubber's gob.

Here, on the Left Coast, the west coast, a musician friend put up a Facebook site canvassing support for the Canucks winning the Cup for Mac, her 90-year old father.

There you have it. From coast to coast, from a six or seven-year old youngster to a 90-year old man, and all ages in-between, there is no doubt that hockey is part of the Canadian cultural DNA. People stay up late, miss school, call in 'sick' to work the next day, honk horns, fly flags, kiss their spouses for the first time in years, high-five their friends, wave their towels, witnessing their heroes competing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Some fellow won tickets to Game 1 for promising he'd dress-up as Lady Gaga. Now that's commitment! Will it help, who knows.

Former Canuck player, Cliff Ronning, born and raised in Burnaby, was a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup run team that lost Game 7 to the New York Rangers. He bridges the aforementioned age gap, in addition to the one between fans-players. He said that he's been waiting for a Cup to come to Vancouver since he was five years old. 

Another former Canuck player and captain of the 94 team, Trevor Linden, says that it is time to bury the memory of a team that lost the Cup and celebrate one that wins it - the current Canuck team. There is logic to that, since it is true that the 94 team, as great as it was, as close as it came, did not bring home the Cup. When has a loser found such exalted status? When one is desperate for a winning team, dire-hard fans yearn, year after year, until the real thing comes along.

Discounting the Vancouver Millionaires Stanley Cup victory in 1915, the modern day Canucks have failed to hoist the NHL hardware since their inception, a long suffering 40 years ago. Some are thus preaching the gospel of "it's our time,” while many a fan, as well as pundits, are chirping about "destiny.” Alex Burrows firmly believes guidance comes from fate and the hands of one hockey gawd, his ex-team mate and roommate, the late Luc Bourdon.

Well, "destiny" can be a fickle friend as that American preacher qua huckster found out recently when Armageddon, the Rapture, failed again to appear as pre-ordained. As one joke had it, someone said to the people who showed up for work at the Rev's the next day "look at the bright side, it's not the end of the world!" Like hockey fans, the religious fanatics can always pray for next year. Well, tit for tat, the sun will shine if the Cs don't win the Cup this year; if they lose, it won't be the end of the world, at least as we know it.

One could argue that the history of the Vancouver Canucks began in an act of 'fate' when they lost the coin toss that would have awarded them Gilbert Perrault. Some might suggest that, since then, the bounces have never gone the Canucks' way. There are countless examples. The most memorable might be Nathan Layfayette hitting the goal post in Game 7 of the Cup Final in 94, or maybe Dan Cloutier's misplaying of Nik Lidstroms' long shot, which one writer here this morning opined "came from the Cambie Street Bridge" (i.e. several blocks away).

Wait just a darn tootin' minute! Maybe 'the bounces' are starting to go the Canucks' way!

Alex Burrows says, quite convincingly, something special happened to him. A certain feeling came over him, when he knocked down that puck in OT in Game 7 against the Hawks, drilled a bouncing piece of black rubber past Blackhawk goalie Annti Niemi, who had been more like Anti Matter the last two years against Vancouver, and won possibly the most important game in team history.

Is there anybody out there who doesn't believe in mumbo jumbo paranormal events who'd like to take a crack at explaining Bieksa's game-winner over the Sharks?

That said, I'm not sure any Canucks fan, or player, should put all of one's marbles on Karma, Fate, or Destiny. You might concentrate more on putting a few pucks past Tim Thomas.

Still, you can't stop people from hoping and basing that hope on something other than hard work by the local pond heroes.

I even heard one fan interviewed on the radio who exclaimed, "This city needs it!" 

Let's get a life there pal. You may need it. I hardly think the survival of the city is resting on whether or not the Canucks win the Cup. 

To date at least, this is not New Orleans, which had Hurricane Katrina and did have some beneficial healing when the Saints won the Super Bowl. 

Can any Sports fan fail to recall cheering for New York when those Damn Yankees were trying to win, but eventually losing, the World Series a month after 9/11? 

Now that latter example may be most relevant. To all believers in Fate I would ask, why did the Yankees not win that year, of all years? Where were the baseball gods in Game 7 of that series when the usually lights-out Mariano Rivera, eerily, blew a save in the ninth inning! Okay so it was Arizona. Who knows what Dust Bowl bunnies, Civil War ghosts, Indian Wars bad karma rose to claim that victory for the Diamondbacks? Well, probably, more likely, it was their pitching.

See that's the thing. It gets to be a battle of Karma; my dad's Karma's faster and better than your dad's Karma; my hockey gods are stronger than your hockey gawds. My hockey god is the only hockey god and so on.

Then there is the 'stats' argument, again city-centric, which has its own magic dust "See, I told you so!" aura.

In that regard, some other Canuck fan was lamenting that it'd been 17 years since the Canucks had last been to the Cup Final: too long, much too long, in her opinion. Subtext: "it's our time.” Okay, from the sound of her voice, she's probably late 20s, early 30s. In that perspective, seventeen years is almost a lifetime. Look at it this way. There are 30 teams competing every year, with only one team winning in the end. If you're a fair-minded person, one could argue that any given team should win the Cup once every thirty years. How long is too long, seventeen years.

Then again, it remains true that the Canucks have been in the league 40 years and have yet to sip the champagne from the silver chalice. The city may not need it but it sure might be a good time to win it! You only get so many chances as a player. With thirty teams, there may be many players, with an average hockey-life span of 15 years, who will never ever get the chance. When you get the chance, you have to understand the moment as a special one. Carpe diem, which means spear the player, if you fell you must.

Here's another 'stat' thrown out from the "this is our year" theorists. Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976; the Habs won the Cup the following year in 1977. Calgary hosted the Olympics in 1988; the Flames won the Cup, come Les Habs, the following year, 1989. Vancouver hosted the Olympics in 2010; ergo, the Canucks will win the Cup the following year, 2011.

That all just goes to show you that there is a dangerous tendency afoot in Lotus land to believe in the destiny thingy. 

Canuck fans, with their cult-like religious belief in such destiny, or their own unique 'prayer' rituals - like putting a picture of that flasher woman and her 'twins' on their computers as screen-savers; are kind of caught between empowering themselves, and their team, with a certain swagger, cockiness but, being Canadian, stopping short of shouting it from Mount Seymour. 

If Vancouver wins the Cup, many Canadians, as per their nature, will apologize to Bostonians. Some already feel bad for the always under-achieving Sharks who've never even made it to the Final. Poor Tampa Bay, all they have is swampland. Poor Boston, Tim Thomas will have to settle for the Vezina and a plate of beans. I would suggest however that the C's pencil-in a few Detroit Red Wings names on the Cup. If they down take the Sharks seven games, bang them around and hurt them, we may have already suffered a different fate.

In any case, after all the hoodoo voodoo, and the hype, the stats, the historical references, will the Canucks win the Cup... this year? 

Will it be 'third time lucky'! 

You just can't avoid the spooky stuff, can you?

Okay, so let's stick with the spooky stuff for a bit longer and start with a confession and, hopefully, burying my own bad karma that I bring to the pre-series cosmic cocktail hour.

At the beginning of the season, I was one of those doorknob gypsies who predicted that Boston would not even make the play-offs! Oops!

That said, with about a month or so left in the season I told my bro, Stomper, on the phone that it looked to me that Boston was a serious contender to come out of the East. I think the tape would show that my second choice at that time was Tampa Bay. It has come to pass and perhaps my early season bad karma has evaporated accordingly, er, fingers-crossed, avoid walking under ladders, pass the salt, etc.

Alas, when I was watching Game 7 the other night between the Bruins and TB, they had an overhead shot, looking down from the rafters, at centre ice for an ensuing face-off. There seemed to be some little black dots flickering across the top of the screen. At first I thought maybe my eyes were tired and on a wee holiday or I was having an acid flash back. Alas, a second such TV shot included the same phenomena; little black objects darting around. What kind of omen, Biblical or otherwise, did that portend! Boston scored and won the game 1-0. Oh my sweet Lord, where do we find the karmic balance?

During the Canucks' run to the Cup Final so far, there's been a rainbow arcing over English Bay and down onto Rogers Arena - just before Game 7 against the Hawks. Then, a pod of Orcas spotted in Burrard Inlet during the Nashville series. Finally, there was that terrific pass from the stanchion to Kevin Bieksa and the game winning goal against the Sharks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final! 

What pray tell might be the next 'sign' that fate is sitting on the Canucks' bench?

It’s too early to draw any conclusions, only “The Shadow knows” for sure. That said, one couldn't help but 'feel' the karmic momentum provided by the announcement that Manny Malhotra has made an absolutely remarkable recovery from his career-threatening eye injury and will likely suit up for the Finals. Like, totally Cosmic, man!

One last 'intangible' story may be relevant.

There was a nice article in the paper on Saturday here about three of the Canucks' core players: Bieksa, Burrow and Kesler.

They've all been here the same amount of time, as they all came up together the same year from the Manitoba Moose. They call each other 'brothers'; their families are close. Maybe that means didley-squat but for me maybe it also gives more meaning to "having your team mate's back.” Add the Twins and Sami Salo and others... maybe... maybe the C's will just want it more than the Bruins. 

Well, none of the above will mean a thing once the puck drops on Wednesday night but it gives me some comfort that the Canucks are going into this battle, in part due to those 'intangibles', as the favourites to win. 

Then again, back to the real world - they'd better wrap a tree-hugging lumberjack around Nathan Horton.

I will add one more 'factor' or 'intangible' that lies outside the relative strengths/weaknesses of each team - flight time. One of the things the Canucks have fought for over the years is a more forgiving schedule given their geography and all the flying, all the hours in the air, the team does over the course of the year. Boston beats Montreal Philadelphia and Tampa Bay does not compare at all to Vancouver beating Chicago, Nashville and San Jose, except in the last instance. That is to say, the C's are more conditioned than the Bruins for long distance travel or jet lag, which might become an advantage in a long series.

Will it be a long series? Prediction time Clobber

One can have a better idea when predicting within conferences due to seasonal play, from year to year, previous play-off meetings and so forth. When it gets to East versus West, there is less of a record on which to base any assessment
Someone in the newspaper, a letter to the editor, stole my thunder when he opined that the trend for the C's closing out series so far was seven, 6, then 5 games; he concluded the C's would win this series in four. I have the C's winning in four in my hockey pool, but that is as much a strategy as an educated guess and, for the record, I had them doing that against the Washington Capitals. As for that other fella's prediction, I guess you can buy into that theory, of logic, if you're a statistician or mathematician, without losing all of your marbles.

So, why not swagger! You only get so many chances! 

Get the champagne ready!

Canucks in seven.

Clobber Samson is a highly opinionated sports commentator, especially when it comes to Vancouver "Canucks," of the National Hockey League. Expect no balance in his columns. This is good.

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