Cam Cole: Canucks must beware of home opener 'hoopla'


Poison trappings: Whether it’s a curse, believing the hype, sideshow distractions or the visitor’s skill, familiar surroundings aren’t always an advantage.

Vancouver Canucks fans Ty Benoit and Hank Asp (r) show their support.

Vancouver Canucks fans Ty Benoit and Hank Asp (r) show their support.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG

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If only it were as simple as “ignore the hype.”

You’d tell the players, they’d nod in agreement, put anything anyone has ever said about them out of their heads, and play it like a road game.

But it is the opposite of simple.

And it will be the opposite of simple Saturday for the Vancouver Canucks.

The first four baseball clubs to open the post-season at home lost. All four National Hockey League teams to open at home Wednesday lost. Three more lost Thursday.

Everyone has seen the Guaranteed Win Night that backfired, and Fan Appreciation Nights that inspired endless bitter jokes. And sweater retirement nights and banner raisings that started warm and fuzzy and ended sour.

The Chicago Blackhawks hoisted their Stanley Cup banner and displayed their championship bling Wednesday and gave up three first-period goals to the Rangers, and lost.

The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the Mike Babcock era at home to the Montreal Canadiens, and lost. The L.A. Kings were run out of the Staples Center by San Jose.

The Calgary Flames opened at the Saddledome with fog and laser lights — not exactly like last year’s smoke and mirrors — and were blitzed 5-1 Wednesday by the Canucks.

None of these was as dramatic as the Toronto Blue Jays’ collapse in Game 1 of their American League Division Series, since exacerbated by Thursday’s 14-inning Game 2 heartbreaker, but then no team was as lavishly and endlessly hyped going in as the Jays, albeit for a whole bunch of pretty good reasons.

The problem is, hoopla, more often than not, is poison to the recipients. Call it mental weakness, or simple human nature, but you can only listen to people telling you how wonderful you are so many times before you start to believe it, or feel pressured to prove it. Either can be fatal.

And the overkill is instant bulletin-board fodder for the team that rolls into town under heavy cover, ignored and unfancied.

You don’t think the Texas Rangers had a bellyful of hearing about David Price and the Blue Jays’ Murderers Row of home run bashers?

The Canucks, who get the Flames on the rebound here tonight, say it isn’t really the pre-game hype and ceremonies themselves that are worrisome.

Asked what the Canucks need to be leery of, head coach Willie Desjardins said: “Calgary. They’re just a good hockey team. And they’re certainly going to want revenge, they’re going to come hard and we know they are.”

True enough. To put the home opener curse down to the celebrations is to ignore the role the visitors play in the outcome. Only half the equation is the home side. But as Yogi Berra might say, it’s the bigger half.

“I don’t know, we were talking about it a little bit between us,” said Alex Burrows, of the home-opener stats so far this fall.

“I thought personally it’s always more fun, or less pressure, on the visiting team. When you’re the home team, you almost have to win, to give your fans a good show, make plays, be cute maybe. But that’s not how you win games in this league.

“I find any time I go into another team’s rink, I want to ruin their party. Especially the way the season ended for us last year.”

Pre-game ceremonies, these days, are so commonplace that players, especially veterans, have long since learned how to adapt to them.

“Most of us went through it so many times already, so you know what the deal’s going to be before the game,” said Radim Vrbata.

“When the game starts, the game starts, no matter what’s going on prior,” said goalie Ryan Miller. “It can be a distraction, (but) if you bring it up and talk about it, and just say this is happening, generally our PR staff lets us know what’s going on and what the timing will be.”

In a perfect world, both teams could stay in the room until the festivities have ended, “but sometimes when you’re the home team,” Burrows said, “the ceremony gets long and the legs are a little bit Jello-ish when the game starts.

“So I think you have to really push yourself in warm-up physically, but mentally you have to remind yourself this is just a sideshow. You have to be ready when the puck drops.”

In this case, when it drops, so might the gloves, because that has been part of the history with Bob Hartley’s Flames.

“I wouldn’t say it has to happen again (tonight), I think we’ll see what comes out for his starting five (tonight), and Willie will match accordingly,” Burrows said. “But at the end of the day, they probably forgot about it and have moved on.”

Coming off a home-ice loss? Doubtful.

It might be an opening faceoff you don’t want to miss.

Vancouver Canucks fans Ty Benoit and Hank Asp (r) show their support.

Vancouver Canucks fans Ty Benoit and Hank Asp (r) show their support.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG

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