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ken dryden

A Vancouver Canucks fan confronts the police during riots after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final hockey game to the Boston Bruins in Vancouver, British Columbia June 15, 2011.MIKE CARLSON

I went to bed with images of the Cup dancing above the winners' heads.

I woke up this morning with images of cars blazing on the streets.

I went to bed with the image of Tim Thomas, his body and mind so quiet, except when the frenzy of the action brought his body to frenzy. Not his mind; never his mind. Then, in postgame interviews, his body and mind still so quiet, except now he had a big mellow smile on his face. With the image of Zdeno Chara, his giant body, human-sized head and serious beard, so thoughtful and smart in his interviews, beforehand parading around the Cup like a hunter who has returned with his prey.

I woke up with a season that is over in the way nothing is over like it is after a seventh game; and with a gnashing of teeth.

Canucks' fans were angry, and far more they were disappointed. They love their team. They've loved it for 40 years through many bad seasons and some teasingly hopeful ones. This year, the team was better than it had ever been with some genuine stars; and it had in its way no unbeatable opponent with talent and destiny on its side. This was the year. And it was all season, right up until that first goal in the first period of that last game. And it still might have been, although down 3-0 right into the third period, until at some moment with lots of time yet to go, to the fans, to the Bruins, to the Canucks, the story seemed finally written.

What happened next on the streets of Vancouver wasn't anger.

I lived for a year in England just after I retired from the Canadiens. This was during the peak years of "soccer hooliganism." I'd go and watch the local team, Cambridge United, play - it was in the second top league - and, hard as it is to believe today, so was Chelsea, a fact which didn't make Chelsea's fans happy. They came to the game in Cambridge in many chartered buses, screaming and yelling throughout the match in their caged-in visitors' section. When the game was over, as I was walking home - I don't remember who won - I could see the Chelsea fans and the Cambridge fans begin to gather. It had not been a heated game. The teams were not rivals. There was no history between them. There had been no incidents in the game. At stake had been neither promotion nor relegation. Who won and who lost, from the play of both teams, had hardly mattered. Then came the fury - fists, boots, snarling faces - then bloodied noses and mouths, until suddenly it ended. I was stunned by the ferocity. I was stunned by how emotionless it had been. They weren't mad. One group of fans was on one side wearing yellow, the other was on the other wearing blue. So they fought. They did it, it seemed to them, to show how deeply they loved their team. Really, they did it because they could do it.

Canucks' fans didn't smash windows and turn over cars because they loved their team and were mad about having their moment ruined. They did it for the same reason fans in arenas yell at players words they'd never even whisper to anyone else; why bloggers scream at the world; why David Letterman drops TVs and watermelons from the top of a building to smash on the street below. Because they can. This was not Watts or Brixton or Cairo. They did it because, while others in other places experience real injustice and destruction, for us the sound of breaking glass and heat of blazing cars is interesting, forbidden fun. And we can hide - from ourselves and others - in the moment and amid the thousands around us from any consequences.

Vancouver is such a special place. It is so special I think that those who live there sometimes feel guilty at how special it is. In many ways, I think it's the same about Canada. If our ethnic communities are not at each other's throats, if we don't riot after Cup losses, we can't be a real or serious place. We aren't big time. But maybe there's a bigger big time that is much more innately us.

I look forward to the moment after that next Cup is won - in Vancouver, in Montreal or Toronto, in Calgary, Edmonton or Ottawa; or in Winnipeg - for fans in their tens of thousands to say what is really in them: we might pour out onto the streets and happily, joyously, trash everything around us because we can. But because we can, we won't. That's so boringly, uninterestingly everybody else. Champions write their own scripts. Our team is special. We are too.

The Canucks, and some Canucks fans, weren't ready to win this year.

Next year.