Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Stanley Cup and Redemption

Wednesday was probably the most important hockey game I've ever watched. I'd watched the Gold Medal game in Salt Lake City. The Gretzky on the bench shoot out in Nagano. Countless gold medal games in juniors, etc., etc. However, Game 7 in 2011 of the Stanley Cup Finals was, by far, the most emotional investment I'd ever had in a hockey game. So much so that I almost never even went out to watch it in public, just in case the Bruins lost. Because if the Bruins lost, something was getting destroyed.

To understand, one must look not only at my love of the Bruins, but also my intense hatred of Vancouver.

My dad, who has always been a Bruins fan, converted me over at a very young age. I was d-man when I started playing hockey, the Bruins had Ray Bourque at the time, so it was a pretty easy conversion. It also helped they had Bobby Orr before that. Oh, and I should mention Cam Freaking Neely, one of the easiest to cheer for hockey players in the history of the game.

Sure, like any good relationship, the Bruins and I have had our fights. There was the Joe Thornton trade (Joe had become my new favorite player after the retirement of Bourque) and their goaltending situation has constantly screwed me over in my fantasy league*, but at the end of the day I'm always there for the Bruins and, as it turns out, they're always there for me.

*(Two years ago I invested an early round pick in Tim Thomas, only to see Tuukka Rask get a Vezina nomination. This past season I spent an early pick on Tuukka Rask....and Tim Thomas is probably going to win a Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy. This frustrating situation led me, at one point this season, to post a drunken rambling message on the league message board proclaiming I was done with the Bruins and that Tim Thomas could eat a dick. Fortunately, like any good relationship, I hope we can forget this drunken moment of frustration.)

My hatred of Vancouver, on the other hand, is quite personal. About three years ago the universe kicked me right in the dick and balls and one of the fallouts of this incident is a personal vendetta against Vancouver. I feel so strongly in my hatred of this city that, for perspective, I cheered for the U.S. in the gold medal hockey game against Canada at the Vancouver Olympics in hopes that the people of Vancouver would not get to celebrate a gold medal victory. It's quite personal.

So, if you've at all followed my updates on the Facebook during the playoffs, you will no doubt have discovered that I'm in no way shy about getting a pure, visceral hate on for the Canucks. To me, the quicker they were out of the playoffs, the better, as this would insure that they're fanbase would have its hopes and dreams dashed after winning the President's trophy. And Chicago almost pulled it off. They came fucking close and they just about embarrassed the Canucks in the first round. It was around this time that I, still frustrated with my fantasy goaltending situation, declared that whomever eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs would be my new favorite team next year and I buy a jersey of my favorite player from that team (they had not yet announced the return of the NHL to Winnipeg). So while I was pricing out my new Dave Bolland jersey, the Canucks somehow managed to win game 7.

Drawing Nashville and a battered and bruised San Jose the next two rounds, the Canucks pretty much had a cakewalk to the finals and I knew it. So while I tried my best to rally around Nashville and then watched my favorite player in Joey Thornton do his best to try and overcome the anchor that is Patrick Marleau, it simply was not in the cards and the Canucks were destined to reach the finals.

Meanwhile, over in the East, I was quietly sitting back and watching the Bruins take out the Canadiens, then the Flyers and finally, in Game 7, the Bruins defeated the Lightning to advance to the Cup finals.

So here it was: either the Bruins were the team of destiny, here to win back my love and become my new favorite team after already being my favorite team all while vanquishing my most archest of arc-enemies, or the universe had such a hate on for me that it decided kicking me in the dick and balls just wasn't enough and it had to come back and kick my dick and balls right in the dick and balls.

By this time, my hatred of the Canucks was beyond any sort of rational hate any one person could levy against a group of individuals he had never even met. There was the deep rooted personal hate of Vancouver and its people and fans, there was the hate of all the bandwagon hoppers somehow believing this was Canada's team (not having learned the lessons about the NHL being a business that the Jets leaving 15 years ago should have taught us), but there was also a genuine hate of the actual team of players. How people could get on board in such large numbers with a team that featured cowards (Lapierre and Burrows), cheap shot artists (Torres), douches (Bieksa and Kesler), ninnies (Sedin Sisters) and a turd (Luongo) didn't make sense to me. The only player I respected at the start of the finals was Aaron Rome....and he knocked Horton out with a cheap hit in game 3. (I did come to respect Jannik Hansen's game, though).

Games 1 and 2 were frustrating as hell. Bruins outplayed the Canucks for 50 minutes but stopped skating in both games with 10 minutes left. Luongo looked invincible and it looked like we might never score. It looked like the universe hated me.

Game 3 started off much the same. Then Horton got cheapshotted off the ice and the Bruins did sweet fuck all on the ensuing five minute power play. It looked like it was over. And then came the second period. Goal after goal after goal after goal and the Canucks were embarrassed right out of the building. The evening ended with Tim Thomas laying a good clean check on a Sedin sister which lit up the internet message boards with whining Canuck fans complaining it should be a penalty. (Just in case you confused Canucks fans with hockey fans).

Game 4 was also a beat down. Brad Marchand etched his name in Boston lore that evening with a tremendous game, which included The Shift.  (There was also Tim Thomas' brilliant giving of the business to Burrows in front of the net.)

This set up Game 5 back in Vancouver and once again the Bruins outplayed the Canucks and once again Luongo stole a win for the Canucks.*

*(It should be noted here that all the Canucks fans that threw Luongo under the bus really showed their true colors.  These people are not hockey fans.  Luongo, basically of his own accord, stole 3 games from the Bruins.  Without him, this series would have been a sweep.  Now, I hate Luongo, but I damn near almost felt sorry for the guy after everybody blamed him and hardly anybody pointed out the Sedin Sisters being minus a billion on the series, including a combined -8 in Game 7, all while the team in front of Luongo scored 8 goals in 7 games.  This was not the goalie's fault.)

This brought Game 6 back to Boston, where the Bruins had beat the snot out of the Canucks so far in the series.  I planned on watching alone in case I needed to smash my Dreamcast after a Bruins loss, but ended up having Russ, Forrester and Jeff show up at my place.  Russ, another true Bruins fan, was a nervous wreck during warm-ups, the anthem, the opening five minutes......then the Bruins opened the flood gates, shelled Luongo, scored on Schneider and were up 4-0 before the 10 minute mark of the first period.  We put it on cruise control the rest of the game, forcing a game 7.

I was going to watch this game at home by myself, Dreamcast at the ready for smashing, since it seemed like Luongo was invincible at home and I assumed the universe did hate me and that instead of this being some sort of redemption destiny it was in fact the universe being a cruel dick.  But I woke up Wednesday morning feeling good.  Phoned up Russ and decided we should go to the bar to watch the game.  After work we headed to 4 Play.  Line-up was around the block.  We saw That Bruins Guy* at the front of the line and wanted to watch the game with him but realized we weren't getting in so we left.**  Went to the Tavern.  Packed.  Ended up going to Boston Pizza*** and they had one table left.  Right under the TV.  Boston Pizza it was.

*(That Bruins Guy was at 4 Play with us when we went to watch game 1.  He kinda looked like Andrew Ference and was that perfect amount of crazy that, in a bar brawl setting, you definitely want him wearing the same team's jersey as you since you know he can throw 'em and you know he doesn't lose too many.  When some douche Canucks fan went up to him to shake his hand after the Bruins lost "here's to good game", That Bruins Guy responded by telling him "I'll punch a Canucks fan in the face before I ever shake his hand."  This guy was clearly my kind of people.)

**(Canucks fans are just like Canucks players.  They pass you on the street and won't make eye contact but half a block after they pass you they turn around and make some comment.  Cowards.  At 4Play the comment was "Bruins fans can't handle the line."  No, you dumb fuck.  We're actually FANS and not bandwagon hopping gypsies and we had no intention of missing a second of action waiting in line for some bar.)

***(Boston Pizza was put on my boycott list when they decided to cross out Boston and write under it Vancouver on their website for the finals.  I don't take my boycotts lightly, which is why watching the game at Boston Pizza was a fact worth mentioning.  However, watching game 7 of the Cup Finals featuring the Bruins is more important than a boycott and, with the good memories forged in that place that night....boycott lifted!)

Russ was, as always, a bit of a nervous wreck.  I was somewhat calm, somehow believing that this game was destiny and that, whatever way this game turned out, would be indicative of some greater thing.  I knew it was entirely out of my control, yet Russ wanted to control everything.  It was a weird dynamic.  We ordered drinks but could not even think about food.  We sat, watching intently, waiting for the first goal.  With so much invested at this point, there was no other focus but the game.  Finally, Patrice Bergeron potted a goal, allowing us to think about things such as the fullness of our bladders and maybe eating some food.

Brad Marchand added some beautiful insurance.  Then the refs decide to call the first penalty of the game....a somewhat questionable interference call on Chara (questionable in that it was game 7 and they had not been calling that a penalty all game.  Normally it would clearly have been interference.)  That's when Bergeron put home a shorty and it just felt like that was the game.  Which it was.  The Canucks were beaten, bruised and broken.  Marchand put home an empty netter, we counted down the final 10 seconds, went and hugged/high fived every Bruins fan in attendance, watched Timmy take home the Conn Smythe and then watched, almost speechless, as the Bruins passed that beautiful trophy of Lord Stanley's around.  (I say almost speechless as Russ and I blabbered aimless nonsense about each player that hoisted the Cup.  At this point, even the Black Aces on the team seemed like legends.)

We decided to head to 4 Play and see if That Bruins Guy was still there.  We headed upstairs and sure enough there he was.  We ended up in a three man bear hug, filled with joy and celebrating this wonderful moment with a complete stranger that we felt we knew for years but had only seen once before, two weeks earlier, and had only briefly talked to.  The manager at 4Play had given That Bruins Guy a huge bottle of champagne on the house and we ended up standing around with him and about 4 other guys passing around the bottle, reliving the nights events, reminiscing about past Bruins moments and just soaking in the moment.  We ordered some rounds of beer, talked about tattoos, jerseys, when we became fans, how gay we all were for Tim Thomas (I believe 7 out of 8 guys would have blown Tim Thomas that night if Tim asked) and how much people cried when the Bruins finally won.

After crashing at Russ', watching some riot coverage, sending e-mails and updating the Facebooks and eventually staring at the ceiling unable to sleep and thinking of the Cup, I ended up rolling into my place at 4:30 am.  To sleep by 5:30.  Up for work at 7 am.  Then back home at 10 am, hungover as shit off the tears of Canucks fans.

At the end of the day, I couldn't have asked for a better ending.  I finally received a small, minuscule amount of redemption.  It doesn't make up for the past, but at least its something.  And while it may make me seem like a dick, I must say that everything about this brought me joy.

Had the Canucks been eliminated by Chicago, it would have just been another early round disappointment.  But, by making the Finals, getting up early and then having a 3-2 lead after 5 games, Canucks fans believed they were going to win the Cup.  It seemed inevitable to most of them and you could tell by the way they celebrated and by the turd of the game the players laid in Game 6.  They played that game like they had already won the Cup.  So the people of Vancouver believed the Cup was theirs.  And then the Bruins and Brad Marchand quite literally punched their hopes and dreams right in the face.  Three years after Vancouver had destroyed my hopes and dreams, my Bruins destroyed theirs.

But it was the gift that kept on giving.  I saw footage of Canucks players crying, Vancouver fans weeping and sobbing, heartbroken and distraught.  It was glorious!!!  And it kept coming....not only were their hopes and dreams crushed, but the people turned on their own city, destroying buildings and cars and whatever they could get their hands on.  But it got even better......since everybody now has a camera, websites were set up to identify these idiots.  We've already had one guy lose a water polo scholarship and other kid was arrested on his last day of high school.  This is fantastic!!

So, thank you, Boston Bruins.  Team of Destiny.  Favorite team of for life. (Chipman has only one shot at getting Winnipeg to be my number one and Boston my number 2.  If this team isn't named the Jets, goodbye Antropov Jets jersey and hello Marchand and Tim Thomas jerseys.)  You've allowed me to finally get on the scoreboard.

Vancouver 586 - Brad 1.  The comeback is on, bitches.

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