Vancouver and Chicago are far more alike than most of the fans think about – or perhaps even care to know.
Both are waterfront architectural showcases, defined as much by their history and blend of cultures as they are by the buildings and landscape that make up their skylines. Both went through huge population booms in the mid-1800s; and eventually emerged into the 21st century as exciting modern cities. Both have a patchwork of diverse neighborhoods, museums, restaurants and people that make both cities a great place to live.
And both cities know the agony of sports franchises that cannot deliver.
For 49 years, Chicago waited for the Blackhawks to rise again. (Let’s not even talk about the Cubs and their century-plus losing streak) But the Hawks suffered under ownership that didn’t market the team wisely, didn’t spend the money to attract talent, didn’t have the right formula behind the bench or in the front office. The coaches couldn’t make a winning team out of what talent they had available. Good players eventually got traded away when their monetary value became too high for a tight-fisted club, or they left in search of greener pastures. Ex-Blackhawks are scattered throughout the league, and not just thanks to last year’s post-Stanley Cup fire sale.
But over the past five years, as ownership and management changed, the Blackhawks constructed a team that was designed not only to win a Cup, but to begin a dynasty, a new reign for hockey in the Windy City. It was thought that Chicago would perhaps win in 2011; but after a run to the Cup in 2009, a team that had been nearly intact for a couple seasons added the missing pieces, and had a record-breaking season crowned with the Stanley Cup in 2010 instead.
The team has suffered through a tough year, but they still produced 97 points. They still earned a playoff berth. They got into the playoffs via an eleventh-hour blessing by the Minnesota Wild, were considered the underdogs, yet turned the bus around and have now reminded not just the Canucks but the entire hockey world that they are, and still remain, the Stanley Cup defending champions.
Vancouver celebrated their team’s 40th anniversary this year. They played their first game on October 9, 1970 against the Los Angeles Kings. (They lost.) They’ve collected two division championships and two appearances in the Final round, but have yet to win a Cup. This year, they won the Presidents’ Trophy, which honors the team that collects the most points during the regular season.
Ten years ago, the Canucks were in the same condition that the Blackhawks were, but for similar reasons: they, too, stank up the ice. Between their two Cup runs in 1982 and 1994, the team was nothing remarkable. After their second Final appearance, they got worse. Team expectations were low, and the team didn’t deliver a good product, either. Prior to restructuring in the “West Coast Express” years, sports writers and photographers weren’t exactly lining up to cover Vancouver hockey; there was a hotter ticket in town – NBA expanison team, the Grizzlies. (The Grizzlies eventually moved to Memphis in 2001, but their legacy is still honored within Rogers Place.)
The Canucks began rebuilding their team after the lockout, too. They signed Roberto Luongo to an epic contract that still extends many years into the future. They put together raw talent, not just in their NHL club, but in their AHL and ECHL rosters as well, so when injuries decimated the team this year, the club was able to bring up wave after wave of depth.
Banners currently hanging outside Rogers Arena declaire “This is what we live for,” and Canucks players’ faces stare intently out at passerby. Expectations for this team ran high all season; the team delivered by winning their division, the Presidents’ Trophy, and are now in the playoffs to see if they can win the Western Conference spot in the Final round.
Vancouver won games 1-3. Then they imploded as Chicago took games 4 and 5. Game 6 was a hard-fought battle, but in the end, Chicago pushed off defeat yet again, and made a 0-3 deficit into a historical 3-3 comeback game 7.
Both teams should leave it all on the ice tonight. There’s nothing left to do. Without a win, neither team has any more to their season.
This is what teams live for.
And so do the fans.