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The Hope

May 20, 2024. Vancouver, BC.

 

Game 7. The two most exciting words in professional sport. This time, a winner take-all, ice hockey playoff clash between the home town Canucks and their bitter rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.

 


To the victors, the spoils. One step closer to the Stanley Cup, the sport’s Holy Grail.

 

To the vanquished, crushing disappointment. The agony of defeat.

 

An entire city, tormented by both the ghosts of Game 7’s past and recent underachievement and failure, lights up. A rabid fan base, desperate for even a glimmer of success, finds its pulse. Even as the tension ramps up to almost unbearable levels.

 

Like so many others, I fall in love with the Canucks this season. Find joy in their unexpected regular season success. As a lover of all sports, particularly team sports, my fondest memories as an athlete or coach are of shared passions, of competing fiercely in pursuit of a specific goal. And so, I deeply appreciate teamwork, steely discipline, grit, and resiliency. The never say die, no excuses mantras.

 

Add in healthy dollops of faith in one another. Of accountability. Of aggression, work ethic and structure. Of making steady progress, of finding a way forward.

 

It all adds up. Implausibly, improbably, the Canucks are one win away from a place in the NHL’s Western Conference finals.

 


So many story lines.


Of a tough, hard nosed, head coach, who, quite literally, brings stability, confidence and order to a group of formerly underperforming players. Never afraid to call them out if and when required. Never afraid to push the envelope, to take calculated risks, to back what he sees and feels. For the organization and its supporters, real, tangible, deep-seated belief the result.

 


Of the “next man up” philosophy. No moaning about losing players to illness or injury. Lose your top goal scorer to illness? Move on. Lose your elite, #1 goalie to injury? Move on. Lose his backup to injury? Move on, the #3 goalie, a precocious, talented, confident Latvian, now a burgeoning star in his own right.


Of dealing with referees, with calls in each series game to date swinging from wildly inconsistent to comically bad. Again, no complaining, just knuckling down to combat as best possible a potent Oilers power play, arguably the most dangerous and efficient in league history.




 

Somehow, some way, the series is knotted at 3 games apiece. Other than a decisive winning performance in game 5, the Canucks rarely hold the upper hand. The team scrambles back from a 4-1 second period deficit in game 1 to claim an unlikely victory. Game 3 sees a heroic rearguard action, Edmonton dominating play, territory, the puck and every other imaginable stat before losing by a single goal.

 


Then, game 6 sees the hometown Oilers, led by their superstar performers, drop a surprisingly limp and listless Vancouver squad without undue difficulty.

 

As a result, even allowing for home ice advantage, most indicators lean towards a Game 7 win for the road team. Yet, who knows how things may play out?

 

Hopefully, the Canucks can and will dare to be great. Initiate, not sit back and await developments. Be brave. As has been the case virtually the entire season, trust each other completely. Manage the puck well, gain offensive zone time, put shots on goal. Pressure the Oilers at every opportunity. Defensively, take away time and space. Stay out of the penalty box.

 


On a glorious spring afternoon, the city yet again comes alive. The arena will be rocking, a tidal wave of love, admiration and support. A franchise transformed, now with a proper identity, edging towards a legitimate Stanley Cup window. Though, at this specific moment in time, perhaps more a group of scrappy, indefatigable boxers, continuing to punch above their weight.

 

And it is nights like tonight when one feels the magical, thrilling, and emotional pull of sport. Of the ebbs and flows during a critically important game, the momentum swings. Of frayed nerves, churning stomachs, chewed fingernails. Of character and courage, heroes and villains. Of a team deeply invested, battling and willing its way to a successful outcome.

 

I phone my friend. Puck drop for Game 7 is still several hours away, but I want his take on what might transpire. A cagey operator, and no stranger to high pressure sporting occasions, he just isn’t sure. A good start by the Canucks is vital, he informs me. Some timely saves. A lucky bounce or two certainly won’t hurt.

 

But I sense some doubt.

 

I know he wishes the Canucks win as badly as I do. A province, a city and a team’s legacy potentially at stake.



Tellingly, he offers one final thought.

 

“The despair I can handle” he notes. “It’s the hope.”





Editors note:

Edmonton fights off a furious Vancouver third period comeback. Wins 3-2.

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