Time for THAT Canadian NHL team

Every May, I start rooting for a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in three decades…or lamenting that, once again, it’s not going to happen. And while both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers are still in the running, how I wish it were the Vancouver Canucks.

My “cheerleading” has nothing to do with having a favourite team, nor a vested interest, nor that only the Maple Leafs exceed the Canucks’ 53 years of futility and failure.

My reason for wanting the Canucks to win is 88-year-old Jim Robson.

For their first 29 seasons, he was the voice of the Canucks. He wasn’t the fan then that he is now, and if any fan deserves a winner for persevering through 4,355 mostly unsatisfying games (many of them where it would have been unprofessional to cheer) that fan is Jim Robson.

In 1999, he upstaged Wayne Gretzky — by retiring four days before No. 99 did. By then, Robson was also a legend, a Hall of Famer, Hockey Night in Canada’s western voice, less known to hockey fans east of the Rockies. He delivered an unbiased reflection of the facts as they happened on the ice. Always. He didn’t talk about favourite restaurants or what his kids were doing at spring break or if he’d ever seen Peggy Lee. He just talked hockey and, for many thousands of ears, he was the standard of excellence. He should have had an ego.

Jim Robson and I have been friends, in case you’re wondering, for more than five decades. I watched him in early years as he worked and sat next to him in later years as he cheered, decked out in Canucks’ colours and watching his favourite team struggle to achieve a level of mediocrity far below Stanley Cup calibre. He saw them come within two goals of winning it all; he saw them reach Game Seven twice. The first NHL game he worked was before there were Canucks: Oakland versus Toronto, just hours after the Leafs traded Tim Horton, whose tears convinced the kind, sympathetic Robson not to interview him on the radio between periods.

You could count the Canucks games Robson missed from 1970 to 1999. He has seen 21 coaches behind the bench for anywhere from 20 games (Bill LaForge) to 540 (Alain Vigneault) without winning hockey’s holy grail. He has seen 677 players from A to Z (Greg Adams to Peter Zezel) fall short. What he hasn’t seen is what he wants to see most: “Vancouver” engraved on the Stanley Cup.

The NHL is down to the final eight now, with 25 per cent Canadian content. Robson hopes the champion will not be a first-time winner, because he wants his Canucks to be next one up.

He’s as healthy as an 88-year-old could hope to be but, of course, Jim Robson knows what day is waiting. He has a plan.

“I’m going to swim to Vancouver Island.”

“You’ll never make it,” adds his straight man.


Before Robson puts his toe in the water, I’m hoping the Vancouver Canucks will be crowned, and if they need an inspirational rallying cry, they can have this:

“Win one for Jim!”