The Vancouver Canucks were considered early favourites to win the Stanley Cup. Cruising into the playoffs as the top team in the NHL — with Olympic hero Roberto Luongo between the pipes and the sensational Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik) making dazzling plays in the offensive zone — they were Canada’s best shot at bringing the Cup home.
The Canucks snuck past the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games, ended the Nashville Predators’ season in six and dominated the San Jose Sharks in five games on their way to becoming the first Canadian team to reach the Stanley Cup finals since the Ottawa Senators lost to the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
The hype for the Canucks spread from coast to coast, so much so that they were even referred to as “Canada’s team.” Their opponents, the Boston Bruins, fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 series deficits to force a game seven in Vancouver. Anxiety was growing amongst Canucks fans — not only about the game itself, but also in regards to what might happen in the streets after the game. Would history repeat itself?
On June 14, 1994, the Vancouver Canucks played the New York Rangers in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. After Mark Messier led the Rangers to their fourth Stanley Cup, tens of thousands of Canucks fans converged upon downtown Vancouver. Before too long, the steadily growing rowdy crowd degenerated into a violent mob. Hooligan “hockey fans” and riot police clashed throughout the night as cars were set ablaze and storefronts were looted.
Jump ahead 17 years, almost to the day, and the streets of downtown Vancouver are once again flooded, this time with over 100,000 hockey fans who will be watching the game on big screens set up on closed off streets in designated “fan zones.” The game was dominated by Boston, and by late in the third period, the Canucks found themselves down 3-0, on the verge of losing the series. Almost sensing what might be coming, thousands of fans started to clear out of the street parties before the game ended, just as another group of “fans,” angry and drunk, started getting restless.
Almost immediately after the game was over the chaos began. Buildings were vandalized, cars were torched, Bruins fans were assaulted, stores were looted and over the next four hours the images being uploaded from the streets of Vancouver resembled the streets of some near-future dystopia.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson blamed the riot on “a small number of hooligans,” but the mob mentality created by the anarchists and criminals appeared strong enough to draw thousands of drunk and angry hockey fans into the madness. The next morning, hundreds of Vancouver citizens took to cleaning up the mess made by the rioters as they attempted to show the world that the rioters did not reflect all Canucks fans. Sadly, the tarnish to both Vancouver and Canada’s image will be much harder to restore.