40-year quest for the Holy Grail

The Vancouver Canucks have never been closer to a Stanley Cup. As of Monday morning, they had two of the four wins they need to clinch the Cup.

I’ve been a Canucks fan since the NHL team started in 1970, although my pre-Canucks loyalty to the Montreal Canadiens remains strong.  When I began paying attention to hockey, the NHL was still a six-team league and most Canadians chose either Montreal or Toronto to cheer for. I chose Montreal — and they promptly lost the Stanley Cup to the Leafs in 1967. After that, Montreal has had several great teams and many Cup wins, while Toronto has, for the most part, sunk into oblivion.

Many B.C. residents felt that this area deserved a team when the NHL expanded to 12 teams in the fall of 1967. However, at the time there was no NHL-sized rink. The City of Vancouver and PNE quickly rectified that by building the Pacific Coliseum,which hosted Canucks games for their first 25 years in the league.

The wrong was righted in 1970, and Vancouver hockey fans have been (mostly) loyal to the Canucks since then — particularly in 1982 and 1994, when the team made it to the finals. The 1982 team made it by persistence, luck, great coaching and plucky play, but was no match for the New York Islanders. There were some great players, including Richard Brodeur (profiled in The Times last week) and Stan Smyl.

Perhaps most representative of the team was Dave “Tiger” Williams, who was traded by the Leafs to the Canucks and brought his unique personality, style of play, determination and inspiration to the team — on the ice and in the dressing room.

The 1994 Canucks were a better team, with Russian sniper Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden among their leaders. They could have beat the New York Rangers, but had some unliucky breaks in the final series.

Over the years, there have been many Langley connections to the Canucks. The Canucks first NHL coach, Hal Laycoe, was a Langley resident, as was (and perhaps still is) Charlie Hodge, the Canucks’ first goaltender. Garth Butcher has been a Langley business owner for years, and has many friends here. Ryan Walter, who recently served as Canucks’ assistant coach, also has strong Langley connections.

Many Langley residents are big hockey fans, and the interest in minor hockey in this community began soon after the Canucks began playing in 1970. Within a few years, Langley’s first two hockey rinks, the George Preston Centre and Aldergrove Arena, were built and junior hockey began here almost immediately afterwards. Hockey remains a passion for many Langley kids and adults.

We all have great memories of various aspects of Canucks history. For me, they include seeing the team play the Boston Bruins (1970 Stanley Cup champs) in early 1971 at my first-ever NHL game. Many memorable evenings were spent listening to Jim Robson call the play-by-play on radio. He remains my favourite broadcaster.

Like all fans who were around then, I will never forget the 1982 run for the Cup. Another such run is now underway, and it seems almost certain that this run will end a 40-year quest for hockey’s Holy Grail.