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To calm nerves, fans should put playoffs in perspective: experts

Canucks fans watch the first period in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final at West Georgia Street and Granville Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, June 1, 2011.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

Anxious and miserable, with spikes of exhilaration – it's the clinical description of a Canucks fan. The treatment? Burn off some energy, limit the alcohol intake and remember – it really is only a game.

"We're dealing with a lot of mixed, intense emotions – people are feeling hopeless and dejected right now," noted Joti Samra, a clinical psychologist at Simon Fraser University. With the buildup to the Stanley Cup final series, now stretched right to Game 7, fans are feeling burnout from prolonged stress.

"Our body doesn't discriminate between positive or negative stress," she said. "It has an exhausting effect."

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For Canucks fans, watching their team's lopsided losses in Boston after heading into the final with such promise, it has been one heck of a rollercoaster ride.

"Keep things in perspective, life will go on," she advised. "Do a little mental check-in. Look, really, is this going to impact my life in a significant way, win or lose?"

There is the fun side of group think – throngs of fans out on the streets, sharing the experience of watching the Stanley Cup playoffs. And there is the flip side, when a lost game prompts a riot, as it did in Vancouver when the Canucks lost the Cup final in 1994.

With more than 100,000 fans expected to flock to Vancouver's downtown core on Wednesday to share in the "social contagion" of the Canucks bandwagon, Dr. Samra said there is a danger that the happy feeling can disappear quickly if the Canucks lose to the Bruins.

"When people are in a group, there is this diffusion of responsibility, where people will engage in behaviours they otherwise wouldn't."

The province, recognizing a "real and serious threat to public safety," is closing 13 downtown Vancouver liquor stores at 4 p.m. on Wednesday to mitigate against that potential for problems.

Dr. Samra said the Canucks bandwagon has been a good thing, a uniting force for the community, but she advised people who venture downtown to be wary of the potential for group think that goes bad. "Drink in moderation, just be smart about where you are and who you are with."

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A Canucks fan who flew to Boston to cheer for her home team in Game 6 ran smack into the ugly mob mentality this week.

Sitting in the TD Garden on Monday night in a Canucks T-shirt, surrounded by Boston fans, Lecia Stewart spent the game with people swearing at her, jabbing fingers at her and telling her to "go home."

"I was afraid to cheer for the Canucks," she said. "I get the passion of sport, but I have been in hockey arenas from one end of North America to the other and I have never seen anything like it. It was awful and aggressive."

Peter Crocker, a sport psychology researcher from the University of B.C., said fans have to deal with their stress differently than the players on the ice.

"For athletes, they have a lot more control over what they can do, they are actually involved. Fans are more apprehensive, they have minimal control," he said.

While the hockey players have coaching on how to deal with pressure as they enter Rogers Arena for the deciding game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Mr. Crocker recommends that fans deal with the tension by giving the game some perspective – the fact that the Canucks made it this far is worth celebrating.

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"The big thing is to enjoy the event and see the positives of the event, no matter what the outcome is. This has been a great run for the Canucks, it's been exciting for everyone."

Ms. Stewart said she hopes Vancouverites demonstrate good hospitality to visiting Boston fans: "I sure hope when we play Game 7 that our city never develops that kind of a reputation."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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