For the last five months, I have been living in the heart of Vancouver and have been fully immersed in the culture and chaos that is the Canucks fan base.
This season has been a very interesting one, gaining international media attention for the treatment of now former head coach Bruce Boudreau.
The bench-boss has been a popular member of the National Hockey League for decades, but the fans in Vancouver have loved him in a way we rarely see in professional sports.
I had the pleasure of being at Rogers Arena on Saturday, January 21, which ended up being Boudreau’s final game with the organization.
With the rumours of his firing flying around for weeks prior to the game and national media members reporting that the coaching change was quickly approaching, Canucks fans rallied behind their coach to show just how much he meant to the organization and fanbase, despite his short tenure.
The love at Rogers Arena started early, with a signature “Bruce, there it is” chant ringing through the building just seconds after the opening faceoff. During stoppages, a number of fans showed their support with signs that read “we stand with Bruce” and “we love you Bruce.”
The Edmonton Oilers took a three goal lead by the halfway point of the second period, and as the visiting fans expressed their excitement with their team, there was a feeling of hesitation lingering in the air.
At one point, an Oilers fan stopped me in the hallway and expressed their concern about everything happening within the Canucks organization and the treatment of Boudreau.
He said to me, “we may not be here to support the same team, but we can all unite against how this has played out for Bruce.” Sometimes things really are bigger than hockey.
The home team made a push, scoring once in the second and once in the third. Fans responded with more “Bruce, there it is” chants following each goal.
Despite the team’s efforts in the final minutes of the third period, a turnover led to an Oilers empty-net goal, which sealed the fate of the home team, losing their third straight game.
The crowd at Rogers Arena has witnessed their fair share of losses this season, but this one was different. Instead of rushing out in the final minutes to beat the traffic leaving the building, fans of both teams stayed in their sections to show Boudreau their love one last time.
While the “Bruce, there it is chant” rang through the building after the final buzzer sounded, Boudreau stayed on the bench, taking it all in, shedding a tear and acknowledging the fan’s support. Players also took their time leaving the ice and the bench, proving that the fans weren’t the only ones that had grown to love the coach during his time with the team.
Boudreau got emotional once again during his post-game press conference, sharing how much the fans have meant to him during his time in Vancouver.
“You never know if it’s the end, so when you’ve been in it for 50 years, the majority of my life and if it is the end, I had to stay out there and just look at the crowd and tell myself to remember this moment,” he said. “I’ve been fired before, but it’s different when you get a chance to say goodbye to the players. This will stay with me my whole life. I’ve had a couple people like me in the past but not the way the fans here have treated me. This city is amazing.”
During the media availability, he was asked if he had a message to share with the fans and he took the time to say, “thank you.”
“I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but I’m glad they (supported me.) Last year, I said the there it is chant, I was a little worried about the players but it sure felt good to hear out there yesterday and today. I just wish we could have won one for them.”
Despite the somber cloud floating around the press conference, Boudreau kept media members laughing and shared that he has no desire to retire from the hockey world anytime soon.
“I don’t think anybody loves the game more than me and will miss the game more when I’m out of it. I hope I’m never out of it. I own a junior team so I might have to fire my kid and coach the rest of the year there.”
The following day, Boudreau was officially let go from the Canucks organization and management announced Rick Tocchet as the 31st coach in the franchise’s history.
Tocchet coached his first game of the season on Tuesday, January 24 against the Chicago Blackhawks and was met with mixed reactions from the crowd. Just minutes into the game, a fan threw a Canucks jersey on the ice. A short time later, the in-arena announcer welcomed Tocchet and his assistant coaches to the team and fans welcomed them with a chorus of boos.
Unfortunately for the unhappy fans, the Rick Tocchet era has begun in Vancouver whether they want it or not. He may be winning the Canucks fans over already, after a big 5-2 win in his debut with the team.
As for Bruce Boudreau, I have a feeling he’s going to land on his feet, whether behind a bench or in broadcasting, in the very near future.
Check out the Brant Beacon tomorrow for a feature story on the relationship between Canucks fans and Bruce Boudreau.