For several years, the marketing slogan “We Are All Canucks” has made hay for the local NHL team, broadening its brand and its business by wrapping arms around every corner of British Columbia.
But in the aftermath of June’s Stanley Cup loss, and the riots that punctuated Vancouver’s seven-game defeat to the Boston Bruins, the team’s brass was fond of a more divisive expression: “Those Were Not Our Fans.”
That response had all the hallmarks of a panicked reaction to an alarming incident that marred the Olympic city just 16 months after the Games. The franchise’s first instinct wasn’t to embrace all, but rather to run from the rogues, understandable given a crushing 4-0 loss in Game 7, and civil unrest that caught players and officials off guard.
But the cry ran hollow with many, especially those outside Vancouver who saw people in Canucks sweaters igniting police cars, smashing storefronts, and looting. And the behaviour of some Canucks fans is getting more difficult to defend as the summer rolls along.
This weekend, Bruins forward Milan Lucic, previously a favourite son of East Vancouver, scuttled plans for a public appearance with the Cup because of incidents that have taken place since June 15. It was unsettling enough that his grandparents were subject to abuse at Rogers Arena during the finals, but since returning home, Lucic had posters of his likeness defaced, and was challenged to a fight at a local street festival.
“There is a certain amount of tension right now,” mother Snezana Lucic told the Vancouver Courier.
Instead of bringing the Cup to Kits Beach for a public celebration Sunday, and a stop at his old high school, the Lucic family held a private affair atop Grouse Mountain. In other words, members of the public were deprived the chance to see Canada’s most famous trophy because the ugly underbelly of Canuck Nation wasn’t done venting.
This for a native son that won a Memorial Cup in his hometown, was drafted in his hometown, and openly shared his NHL journey with his community, doing as many appearances and media as any non-Canuck. His decision represented an escalation of “tension” from last summer, when several B.C.-bred members of the rival Chicago Blackhawks held public celebrations with the Cup after dispatching the Canucks in the playoffs.
Lucic’s story, of course, was picked up in Boston and other NHL cities, bringing a new round of unwanted attention some two months after the Night of Shame. It seems Canucks fans are now safely ahead of Saskatchewan Roughriders supporters as the country’s most notorious sports boosters.
Next stop Dodger Stadium.
The reputation is going to linger until someone shows leadership, so it behooves the Canucks to take a massive stand, and now wrap themselves in a campaign of responsibility, respect, and sportsmanship. Because this isn’t just a civic issue (with the loss of tourism dollars), or a provincial issue (with sluggish prosecutions), it is also a Canucks Sports and Entertainment issue.
It’s their good name being dragged through the mud.
The team is well into its preparations for a theme to the 2010-11 season, which it will unveil next month, so it was hesitant to release details of its promotional plans.
“The way the season ended was disappointing to us all and we are focused once again on encouraging all of our fans to celebrate responsibly and to respect one another at all times,” chief operating office Victor de Bonis said in a statement. “We live and play in a great city and we are proud of the opportunity we have as a hockey club to embrace and build awareness for the importance of respectful and passionate fan behaviour.”
Training camp begins in a month, and the regular season is less than two months away. By the time the Pittsburgh Penguins and Canucks face-off in the Oct. 6 opener, this city ought to be peppered with reminders.
That means billboards, television, radio, and newspapers. It means increased security inside the arena, so fans in visiting colours aren’t showered with beer and debris, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was when he presented Stanley to the Bruins.
Because the point now isn’t that it’s a minority of Canucks fans doing the damage.
The point now is that the minority is winning.