Canuckland: Losing, It’s What’s For Dinner

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

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You can lose. You can lose badly.

You can blow up, you can starve us, you can trade the home for magic beans.

Just don’t justify losing. And that’s all the Vancouver Canucks seem to do.

Last season’s collapse was littered with diagnoses like, We’re a veteran group, we know we have to be better. It was followed with, We’ve still got a lot of hockey in us. We know we can bounce back and contend. Trevor Linden’s march on the capital came with memories of 1994, the sun rising after Chernobyl, and name-drops of his late, great coach, Pat Quinn. This year, the team appeared to be a little more realistic about what was happening and who they were, and it paid off: a playoff appearance in 2015, after the whimper ended the world in 2014, should truly be a proud accomplishment for this club and its fans.

But now, here we are again – down and all but out against a playoff opponent that, coming in, was seen as an equal. Or even an underdog.

The Calgary Flames are not last year’s L.A. Kings, but never put it past these Canucks – they’ll do their best to make them look like that. It makes the losing easier, I think, if you can throw your arms in the air after every goal against, as if to say, Gee, what are we supposed to do?!

On Wednesday, the Canucks’ Twitter account published a pump-up video – or maybe just a coming-to-terms video – and theme was, “We still believe in ourselves.” This is nice to hear, except putting any faith in someone’s faith, and nothing more, is the bare minimum. You believe in yourselves. Good, but why wouldn’t you?

“There’s always going to be downsides in every series,” reads the Tweet, quoting one of the Canucks’ players. “There’s going to be tough games.”

Yes, but… you know you’re the ones who are playing bad, right? That’s like Michael Bay getting depressed about the lack of art in films today.

Words are just words. Simply re-writing the narrative after every loss to make it seem like you did it on purpose, or like this is something that every team goes through – like the slumps you’re in aren’t your own fault but rather some cosmic eb-and-flow of hockey – pacifies your fans after the first or second time. But after six years of the same core and the same result, the boy who cried wolf has been digested and discarded with the corn.

Unfortunately though, even quotes intended to be passionate and aggressive have back-fired against Calgary.

Kevin Bieksa calling Michael Ferland “irrelevant” a few days ago has served him as well as a puck to his visor-less face. Ferland has been targeting Bieksa all series, often getting the best (even physically) of the sturdy but aging defender, and Calgary’s fans reminded him of it in Games 3 and 4.

(On Monday, the CBC referred to Ferland as the Canucks’ new public enemy No. 1. This is probably true, but there’s one problem to note here – he’s not Vancouver‘s public enemy No. 1. I can’t think of a single Canucks fan who would (logically) hate Ferland through the first four games, which means the city has lost its connection to the players on its only team.)

The Flames haven’t just been hungrier through four games – they’ve actually been trying to win.

They understand that, although not every playoff game is an elimination game, they’re all must-wins.

Vancouver? They look like they’re waiting for Calgary to lose, as if their “experience” and “veteran” public relations bull is something the younger Flames just need to respect and make way for.

Nobody would be crucifying the Canucks right now if they were down 3-1 and had looked like they’ve given a damn – in Nashville and Winnipeg right now, you’re looking at two teams that have carried their series for the majority and still face early elimination. Manitoba and Tennessee, their hockey fans are disappointed in the results, so far, but nobody’s going to accuse their players of not trying.

Vancouver? They’re still making excuses, still trying to pretend like they’re working Calgary on some sort of long con. Like it’s Vegas and the next hand just has to be a royal flush.

We didn’t win, but we’re the better team.

How on earth is that anything to be proud of? Imagine any of you at your jobs telling your boss, “I could have done much better on this project, but I just didn’t. Not sure why.” Would that fly, do you think?

And the Canucks are still preaching their patience, still talking about their one-goal efforts like it’s the regular season and there will always be next week.

Boys, nobody’s saying you have to panic. But could you at least show some urgency?

“It was as dispiriting as it was disappointing, strip mining a season which had painstakingly gathered a significant pile of goodwill,” wrote The Province‘s Jason Botchford last night, after a 3-1 loss to Calgary put Vancouver somewhere they’ve chronically been, the brink of elimination.

“The Lower Mainland has had one foot back in the tub, but it is still going to take a good amount of “show me” to get the city all the way in for another dip. The only thing the Canucks did in Game 4 was expose people to the biggest concerns they have about putting in that other foot.”

Canucks fans are known – often negatively – for being a pessimistic bunch. We’re the sort of fans who have gotten so used to losing, we almost look forward to it now. Like a problem gambler, we only feel alive when the chips are being pulled away.

And it sucks, honestly. The crowd is dead at most home games. Goals are expected, not celebrated. Even that infamous riot of 2011, it was almost pre-planned. People started throwing bottles at CBC’s massive downtown monitor during the second period, as soon as the Bruins increased their speed entering the corner.

It was like we were more prepared for a riot than we were for the parade. (What would we have done, I wonder, if we’d actually won something? I’ve never actually thought of it, which should tell you where our heads are at.)

And this negativity, it hurts our team’s play, too. We ooze it from the stands and it melts the ice.

Other crowds – Calgary’s obviously, certainly Winnipeg, even Anaheim – take it upon themselves to win the game with their team. They know that, if they’re excited and loud and pumped up, their team will be excited and loud and pumped up. On Monday, when the Ducks tied the Jets again late in the third and sent the game to overtime, fans in Winnipeg were already cheering ‘GO JETS GO’ by the time the puck dropped at centre ice. In Vancouver, fans would be on their iPhones, Google Mapping the way home from the arena.

So we’re a part of the problem, no doubt.

But at the same time, I guess, can you blame us?

We’ve been treated to a 45-year case study in Murphy’s Law. No offence to the Red Sox, but Bill Buckner’s got nothing on us. Our championships aren’t halted by flukey disasters or divine interruptions – we don’t get the luxury of blaming fat man’s curses or goats for our drought. Our awfulness is self-caused and completely of our own control.

Losing is a parasite. And Vancouver’s got it bad.

Blame the fans if you want. But if you do, you’re also blaming the victim.