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Canucks fans react to the winning goal during the 3rd period in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final at West Georgia Street and Granville Street in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)
Canucks fans react to the winning goal during the 3rd period in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final at West Georgia Street and Granville Street in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)

Vancouver to celebrate 'heart of a Canuck' Add to ...

The Vancouver Canucks announced the theme that will accompany their 2011-12 NHL campaign Tuesday – and it is clearly designed to offset some of the negative imagery that became associated with their brand at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup final.

No Vancouverite will forget the events of June 15, 2011: A dispiriting 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7, followed by civil unrest on downtown streets that besmirched the city’s reputation just 16 months after the world sang its praises during the Olympic Winter Games.

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So while last season was about celebrating the franchise’s 40th anniversary in the NHL and honouring members of the Canucks family, this season will be about healing, respecting the sport, and crediting British Columbians who display “the heart of a Canuck.”

That slogan has already been in use during the preseason, but the team will begin defining more thoroughly Thursday, when it plays host to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular-season opener at Rogers Arena. A pregame ceremony will feature the seven major trophies won by the team and its players last year, alongside police officers, firefighters, paramedics, first responders and those conscientious citizens who showed up downtown on the morning of June 16 and began cleaning up after the riots.

“To me, [heart of a Canuck]exemplifies the role that this team has in the community, and the willingness to participate in a number of different areas where we can lead,” team president and general manager Mike Gillis said. “We’re going to talk about that kind of leadership, and how to lead.”

Chief operating officer Victor de Bonis said the organization did not want to “turn the page inappropriately,” meaning begin the new season without recognizing the terrible events of June 15, and the uplifting ones of June 16, when citizens began sweeping up the broken glass, and writing positive messages on the plywood boards that had replaced shattered windows.

To wit, the NHL franchise has created a “local heroes program,” so fans can nominate people who make a difference in their community, regardless of their tie to hockey. Each month, those local heroes will be guests at a Canucks game.

The organization is also stepping up its efforts with regards to fan responsibility. The Canucks correctly argue they were not responsible for the riots, but they were mighty embarrassed about some developments inside the arena on June 15, which included NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dodging projectiles when he went to present the Cup to the Bruins.

There were also anecdotes about mistreatment of Bruins fans in and around the arena, including one that involved the grandparents of Boston winger Milan Lucic, a native of Vancouver.

“You don’t tolerate that stuff,” de Bonis said.

The Canucks said they are “dedicated to building awareness about the importance of respecting your fellow fan and insisting that others do the same.” The team is developing a celebrate responsibly campaign that will include public service announcements and posters about respecting others – regardless of team allegiance – and public property.

“We’ve always had ‘celebrate responsibly’ messaging in the past, but you are going to see more of it,” de Bonis said. “We’re going to be a little more overt because of what happened.”

On Oct. 18, the club’s second home game of the season, the Canucks will honour the life of Rick Rypien, who passed away this summer at his home in Alberta. Rypien will be similarly honoured by the Winnipeg Jets, the team with whom he had signed a contract this summer after six seasons in Vancouver, at their home opener on Oct. 9.

Follow on Twitter: @mattsekeres

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