Andrew Stevenson and Trina Miller flew in from Saskatchewan with eight-month-old son Kieran to make it for the Canucks season opener against the Anaheim Ducks.
Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG
Even with the strong show of fan support, it was a bittersweet homecoming Saturday night as the Vancouver Canucks lost their season opener to the Anaheim Ducks.
“We’ll do our best to make this a season to remember,” team captain Henrik Sedin had said to the crowd prior to puck drop.
And while Saturday’s dismal game was something most fans probably hoped to forget, the sweet return of Canada’s beloved sport still made it a night to relish.
Like many other NHL teams hoping to woo fans back to the rink following an extended off-season, the Vancouver Canucks had a number of goodwill fan initiatives in place leading up to Saturday’s sold-out game.
Canucks forward Ryan Kesler took a whirlwind trip across the Lower Mainland last week, hitting a North Vancouver Save-on-Foods and a downtown Tim Horton’s to charm fans with free tickets and jerseys. Another initiative included asking a randomly chosen season ticket holder to drop the puck at the season opener.
Jeff Bell, a season ticket holder since 1988, was the lucky one invited to drop the puck Saturday night, grinning for photos in between Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf.
“It was an amazing experience,” Bell told The Province during second intermission. “It was pretty cool. Just the energy in the building and seeing the fans and the lights, being so close to the action was fantastic.”
His son Zac, 22, accompanied him to the game and was “proud” to watch the puck drop.
“It was cool to see him down there on the ice tonight ... and that he got to have such a great experience,” he said. “The game isn’t going exactly as planned but I’m just glad he’s having a great time and that we got to share this together.”
Bell, a Vancouver-based family physician, was - believe it or not - conducting a pelvic exam when Canucks forward and renowned prankster Ryan Kesler called his office early last week. A video on the team’s website shows Kesler dialing a phone and introducing himself to Bell’s secretary as “Bob” at first. When the secretary hesitated, Kesler then gave his real name.
“My first reaction was that I was getting punked. I figured, ‘Here we go again,’” Bell said, noting that he and his friends occasionally prank call each other. “But when I recognized his voice, I realized that this was the real deal and it was really him.”
Kesler then extended an invite to the longtime fan and asked him to drop the puck at Saturday’s season opener against the Anaheim Ducks. But even without the surprise, Bell said he would have continued to support the Canucks.
Only a few short years after he moved to Vancouver in 1985, Bell and several colleagues became joint season ticket holders, splitting the games among their busy schedules. The father of two has held season tickets ever since, noting it’s been a great way to spend quality time with his hockey-loving son.
“They were thrilled,” Bell said of his family’s reaction to Kesler’s invitation. “Most of them are very avid hockey and Canucks fans and everyone’s been dying for hockey to come back.”
For longtime fan Tasha King, not even a recent foot surgery could keep her away from seeing Saturday’s game live. The 31-year-old Vancouver woman, with the help of a pair of crutches, had filed into a line-up along with the rest of the crowd, eager to find her seat inside the arena.
“I’m pumped,” said King, who has been a fan for more than two decades. “[The lockout] was really sad and frustrating but it’s over and the Canucks aren’t necessarily to blame for any of the reasons the strike happened so I’m supportive of them.”
But not everyone is as positive or as dedicated as King. There were online fan campaigns that pushed for the boycott of hockey, with varying degrees of commitment. Some are opting to watch games but only from home, instead of buying tickets. Others have decided not to purchase any team merchandise for the season.
Even then, Darren Schouls believes even the most stubborn of ‘former’ hockey fans will cave eventually.
“Absolutely,” said the 18-year-old. “I knew someone who almost did [boycott the game] but when he heard all his friends were going, he couldn’t help it.”
His friend, standing behind him in the line-up and wearing a retro orange Canucks jersey, put his hand up in the air and grinned sheepishly.
“People can say they’ll boycott the NHL but we’re here to support our team and that’s what we’ll do,” Schouls said.
At that moment, a Canucks team staff announced to the line-up in which Schouls stood that each fan would be treated to a free beer or pop – no doubt winning points with fans who may have been sitting on the fence, and wooing those already keen to return. Even team owner Paolo Aquilini was on hand to welcome fans as they entered Rogers Arena.
Perhaps one of the more dedicated examples of fan support came from couple Andrew Stevenson and Trina Miller. The couple, along with their eight-month-old Kieran, had flown into Vancouver Friday from Saskatchewan just for the season opener.
Stevenson had seen the Canucks play many years ago in Vancouver and has been a fan ever since. Saturday was the first Canucks game for Miller and their youngest son.
“We brought him because we could and what an experience,” Miller said with a wide smile.
The couple has eight other kids back home, one of which is named Linden. Their oldest son is 25, a diehard hockey fan, and was devastated when he learned he was on babysitting duty while his parents made the weekend trip.
“He said, ‘Do you know how much I hate you?’” Stevenson recalled with a laugh.
“We said, ‘Do you know how much plane tickets cost?’” Miller chimed in.
But money wasn’t an issue Saturday, as every single fan inside the arena arrived to their seat to find a free Canucks team scarf waiting. Along with the free beer, discounted concession items, one fan even won a special ‘suite’ night and road trip on the Canucks’ team plane. Countless jerseys were handed away to in-arena winners.
Despite the loss, fans - and prize winners - in attendance Saturday proved themselves to be true supporters of the Vancouver Canucks. The arena, with only a handful of empty seats remaining, erupted into applause almost immediately after defenceman Dan Hamhuis scored the Canucks’ first goal in the first period.
“It feels absolutely fantastic,” Schouls said of being back at Rogers Arena to watch his team play. “I’m beyond excited.”
© Copyright (c) The Province