Thursday, June 16, 2011


An otherwise memorable playoff season was badly marred last night as thousands of unhinged, moronic, presumably drunken Canuck fans rioted after the Bruins dominant 4-0 Game Seven win, causing millions of dollars of damage to their beautiful city and a permanent stain on Vancouver's image. An ancillary victim of the carnage: hockey itself, which now has the word "hooligans" branded on its Canadian fans, much as the sport of soccer has on its fans in Great Britain.

Canadian fans? Is it fair to throw an entire country under Vancouver's deranged bus? Well, I've spent a lot of time covering hockey in Canada, and I've seen this kind of thing before. In 1993, the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup, Montreal fans rioted in the streets afterward, breaking windows on St. Catherine's street, looting, and overturning cars. That was the first time I'd ever seen such a mindlessly crazy reaction (I had to walk through the rioters on my way back to the hotel to write my story for Sports Illustrated...the Canadiens had beaten Wayne Gretzky's LA Kings), and that was after a WIN! Since then it has become something of an annual ritual in Montreal. Google "Montreal Canadiens fans riot" and you will find that they also rioted after beating the Penguins in 2010 and after a lowly first round win over the Bruins in 2008. In 1994 Vancouver fans rioted after the team lost in Game 7 of the Finals to the New York Rangers. There's a pattern here.

But last night's riot appears to have been much worse, and unfortunately I can't say I'm shocked that it happened. During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, after the U.S. men's hockey team beat the Canadians in a preliminary round game, there was enough simmering anger in the streets that I was concerned about the possibility of a riot if the US beat Canada in the gold medal game. It didn't happen, but I now firmly believe if it had things would have turned very ugly, and an otherwise great Olympics might have been spoiled. Tens of thousands of people were in the streets during the gold medal game, drinking heavily, wearing team colors, hollering CA!NA!DA! in unison, feeding off the mob's collective energy. Once that energy turns negative, tempers ignite and destruction follows. Especially if the police is unprepared for it, as, incredibly given the history, Vancouver's seemed to be last night. It's unfathomable how an otherwise polite, measured society--Canada--that prides itself on its manners can become so completely unbalanced over the result of a hockey game. But it has happened with some regularity. And it happened last night in the extreme, tarnishing an otherwise wonderful playoffs for the NHL. (The overnight ratings for Game 7 tied the best Stanley Cup ratings ever, and in Boston they were a stunning 43.4 with a 64 share--nearly 2/3rds of the TVs that were on were tuned to the game.)

Far better to try to remember the 2011 playoffs, both in basketball and hockey, for the triumph of perseverance and teamwork over superstars and flash. The Bruins best player was 37-year-old Tim Thomas, the Conn Smythe winner as the playoff MVP, and the definition of a late bloomer. A career minor-leaguer, he broke into the NHL in 2005 at age 31 and did not even open this season as the Bruins starting netminder. The rest of the team, and I include Zdeno Chara, their 6' 9" captain, is cast in blue collar mold, long on substance and grit, short on style and flash. Honest, tough, hard-working and team oriented. That's the Bruins. They aren't beautiful. But they're a close knit group; a fist, not fingers.

The Dallas Mavericks? They had one superstar, 32-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, but until this playoff season, he was a tarnished one, accused of being soft when the stakes were the highest.

No one believed that he and his Mavs teammates could stand up to Miami's "Big Three": Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. But it turned out that at crunch time it was the Mavs who stepped up, while the "Big Three", especially James, did a disappearing act and played soft. In the Game Six clincher, Nowitzki had a terrible first half, shooting 1-for-12. But his role-playing teammates took up the slack and gave Dallas the lead, with veterans like Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, and the undrafted J.J. Barea, doing the scoring. It's practically all Nowitzki, the Finals MVP, talked about after the game. How his teammates had carried him until he found his rhythm. The team prevailed over the individual stars. It's why most of America was cheering for the previously unloved Mavericks.

So the long winter sports season is finally over, and I cannot remember a year when there were two more absorbing finals, and two more deserving champions. Nor can I remember a reaction to a sports event that left a fouler taste in my mouth than the one put on by Vancouver's "fans" last night. The city should be hanging its collective head in shame, and Canada's hockey-mad culture should be taken to the woodshed and taught to get a grip.


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