Five decades and counting

From first to worst. That’s me this week. I covered the “first” game the Vancouver Canucks ever played in October 1970, so I feel entitled at least to address the plight of the “worst” for a team so many Canadians love to hate. The new worst was last Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Buffalo, a game I also “covered” — as a spectator.

It was the Canucks’ 2022 home opener. I was sitting with a Hall of Fame legend, 87-year-old retired broadcaster Jim Robson, who has seen almost all of 4,280 NHL games the team has played. When the booing started early in the third period last Saturday, he and I looked around to see if we’d missed something, since the Canucks had just played an entertaining second period and were trailing by just a goal…oops, then by two. But Vancouver’s love affair with its hockey team sometimes lasts as long as 15 grams of cheap perfume, and this was a sixth straight defeat.

So short fuses are never a shock.

The beer can that landed innocuously behind us, courtesy of a lunatic in the upper deck, should have been a tip-off that more was to come. The souvenir jerseys that landed on the ice — tossed by fans with too much money or too little common sense, or both — were the ultimate insult for a franchise which is 0-52 in attempting to win the Stanley Cup (technically 0-51 since there was no winner in 2005).

However, as my legendary seat-mate points out, the New York Rangers are 1-81 since 1940, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ streak has reached 55 years (54 seasons), and the storied Boston Bruins went 29 years without winning. Buffalo, Vancouver’s expansion twin from 1970, is also 0-52.

In other words, the long-suffering Vancouver fans have company. This is small consolation to people whose “instant replay” is of their team’s playing far below current expectations, based on talent. When Vancouver fans have had contenders, their “distant replays” are reminders of Canucks teams that played above expectations.

Like in 1994, the closest the Canucks ever came to winning it all. Coincidentally, that night the Rangers ended their 54-year drought, 3-2. It was a legitimate game seven toss-up and, then, the most-watched sports event in CBC history. Finishing the season with 27 fewer points, the Canucks trailed the Rangers 3-1 in the series, a deficit mountain that only the 1942 Leafs have ever climbed in the Stanley Cup Final.

Still, irate Canucks’ fans have company in being blanked by the Cup. Eleven of the NHL’s 32 teams have never won it. Besides Buffalo and Vancouver, the list includes two more Canadian teams (Winnipeg and Ottawa) along with Seattle, Las Vegas, Columbus, Nashville, Arizona, San Jose and Minnesota. It’s worth noting that Vegas (2017) and Seattle (2021) are considered newbies. During the Canucks’ drought, five teams from the “sun belt” — where hockey was never going to survive! — have won the Stanley Cup.

After last week’s home opener, there were reports of $250 Canucks’ jerseys landing on barbecues. That’s the ultimate in roasting your team but, after five decades, you do run out of ideas.