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The Globe and Mail

Obsession with the Canucks spills across British Columbia

The Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association -- won the Stanley Cup in 1915.

It is the Friday morning before the Vancouver Canucks open the second-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the question of the day on TEAM 1040 radio is, "Where were you in 1994 when Pavel Bure scored the triple-overtime, series-clinching goal against the Calgary Flames?"

Granted, this was the anniversary of Bure's big strike. But a first-round goal from 16 years ago hailed as a touchstone moment? Is that all Vancouver hockey fans have in their treasure trove?

There are two Canadian NHL teams still in the hunt for the 2010 Stanley Cup. One is the much-storied, championship-rich, "We're the greatest and you're not" Montreal Canadiens, an organization that has spawned more stars, more parades and more hockey riots than any other on the continent.

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The other still-there team is the Canucks. At first blush, their history consists of waving white towels, losing the seventh game of the 1994 Stanley Cup final, Trevor Linden coming, going and coming back again, plus Harold Snepsts's Yosemite Sam mustache.

But if you look beyond that - and those eye-wrenching mustard-coloured jerseys of the mid-1980s - you'll find a significant hockey heritage, one that predates Roger Neilson and Orland Kurtenbach and skates all the way back to the Patrick brothers, Frank and Lester, and one Frederick Wellington Taylor, better known as Cyclone.

Even before Howie Morenz was ruling the ice for the Canadiens, Taylor, dubbed Cyclone because he could skate like the wind, was tearing things up on the West Coast. He joined the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, established by the Patricks in 1911, and led the Vancouver Millionaires to the 1915 Stanley Cup. (He scored seven times in a three-game route of the Ottawa Senators.)

Taylor won five PCHA scoring titles, once potting 32 goals in 18 games. He was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947 and used to take in Canucks' games when they entered the NHL in 1970.

"There are still Cyclone Taylor Sports stores in Vancouver," said Jim Robson, the former play-by-play announcer of the Canucks for nearly three decades. "I'd say there's a good hockey history here. The first artificial ice arenas in Canada were in Vancouver and Victoria [built by the Patrick family]"

Much of Vancouver's hockey history was written in the minor leagues and major junior, where Ernie (Punch) McLean led the New Westminster Bruins to back-to-back Memorial Cup wins. But this much speaks to the locals' puck passion: They had the 16,281-seat Pacific Coliseum built in 1968 in the hopes of attracting an NHL team, and it worked. They got one, one that immediately passed on Reggie Leach, Rick MacLeish and Darryl Sittler to draft Dale Tallon second overall.

"It was difficult to build tradition in Vancouver," said Mr. Robson, who called the team's first game in the NHL, a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. "In the 1970s, there was no Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg. The nearest opposition was L.A. And when there's a change in ownership, as there's been here a few times, you have new managers and coaches. It was tough to build up stability."

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The fans hung in, though. They were shrewd enough to appreciate having NHL hockey while occasionally wishing their team could play it. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Canucks began to earn their stripes by battling the best teams in their division and learning how to win.

"That's when we started getting respect as a team and an organization," said Stan Smyl, the Canucks' senior adviser and former captain. "Since then, it keeps getting better and better. Now it's not just the city; it's the whole province. Look at the growth of interest in hockey in B.C., how many WHL teams there are [six] and the BCJHL is producing talent. Kids are watching, with the Internet and all games on TV. They get excited and want to play. It feeds on all levels."

These days, Canuck fans are still hungry even after feasting on the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Canadian men's gold-medal overtime win against the United States. The goalie for the Canadian side was the Canucks' Roberto Luongo, the same Bobby Lou being counted on to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks in their Western Conference semi-final showdown.

Should that happen, Harry Neale, the former Canucks' coach, knows what the reaction will be - madness, mayhem, everything you'd expect from a city where hockey counts, and history could use some revisiting.

"When we went to the Stanley Cup final in 1982, the fans were ridiculous," Mr. Neale said. "If the Canucks do it again, it will be something to watch."

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