(by Mike Hagar, CanWest)
When the Canucks hit the ice tonight for the final game of their season, they will be buoyed by the support of thousands of adoring fans who are keeping the faith.
Chanting, cheering supporters lined the side of the road at Vancouver’s South Terminal Tuesday to welcome home the team they still believe will bring home the Stanley Cup.
The fans had weathered the sting of a demoralizing Game 6 disaster and were preparing to make one final all-out push to boost their team as it takes on the Boston Bruins.
“This is the most important hockey game in this franchise’s history and also the most important hockey game in the country, on par with the Olympic gold hockey game,” Francesco Aquilini, owner of the Canucks, said by phone Tuesday.
“This is a call to arms to every Canucks fan in B.C. and across the country from St. John’s, N.L. to Victoria: I want them to cheer and want their support.” Like many others, he believes fans -the 100,000 expected to be in the downtown core today and the hundreds of thousands more rooting at home and elsewhere -will make the difference in helping the Canucks charge to victory.
Each of the six games leading up to tonight’s showdown were won on home ice. It was a fact not lost on the crowd at the airport.
“I think our players’ spirits get very lifted [when they play at home],” said Mehtab Rai, who was staked out the airport well in advance of the Canucks’ arrival. “They get very emotional when they play and really respond to the crowd.”
Debbie Clark ducked out of work when she saw the long stream of supporters flow by her airport workplace.
“We didn’t want to win the cup in Boston anyways,” she said. “I’m sure they’re gonna win it…. They’re all gonna do great.”
Boos and jeers greeted the Bruins’ team bus as it drove past just minutes before the Canucks landed.
Melissa Dean waved a cardboard sign adorned with a black bra that read “This is the only cup you will get Bruins.”
Soon afterward, the Canucks players loaded into their vehicles and filed past the raucous fans, who greeted them with wide grins and star-struck expressions. Chants of “we still believe” could be heard long before the team landed and continued well after the last Canuck drove by.
Simon Pienkohs of Germany said he believed the spirit of Vancouver fans would help push the team to Game 7 victory. “Hockey is everything here,” he said.
Aquilini detailed the amount of effort the team expended to make it to tonight’s match.
“We have fought for the last two months to get to this point, and now we’re here at the seventh game; it’s what every Canadian kid dreams of.”
Dozens of Canucks fans camped out at Rogers Arena for more than a day for a chance at the tickets being released by the team hours before the puck drops.
First in line was Rob Cooper, a 50-year-old construction worker born and raised in Vancouver.
Cooper came to the arena to revel in the atmosphere for Game 6. He listened to the game on the arena’s outdoor speakers and caught glimpses of the action on the TV in the restaurant across the street.
After the Bruins scored their third goal, Cooper positioned himself in front of the ticket booths and has been there ever since.
“I’ve been waiting 40 years for this, I might not get another chance,” he said.
Like other ticket campers, Cooper was adamant the Canucks will win tonight and he’s willing to pay the reported $550 ticket price, still well below online prices.
Second in line was 23-yearold Jaime Yorke, who said he got there just after Cooper and was willing to wait. “I’d wait a week, because that’s about all I could take off of work.
Yorke said the Canucks are a more mature team ready to capture their first Stanley Cup.
“When [Canada] won [Olympic] gold I think it gave Vancouver a lot of courage to move on and be a better team.”
At the back of the line, John Olynyk, 36, said he has maintained the faith through thick and thin. “My passion for the team does not waver, I can assure you that,” Olynyk said. “We’re going to win it.
“I had a dream before the playoffs started -it was a clear vision of Boston and Vancouver in the final and Vancouver wins it. I told my friends about it and they all thought I was crazy.”
Clinical psychologist Joti Samra said that whether the team wins or loses, fans can expect a withdrawal from a state of heightened excitement resulting from the ups and downs of the post-season.
“We kind of have this letdown because we’re in this high stressed state,” Samra said.
Back at the airport, the prospect of a loss was being considered and accepted as a possible cost of supporting a team.
“We made it to the finals,” said Mathew Bhavnani, “We’re proud of our team either way.” Gurpeet Hundal said he’s going downtown after the game, win or lose.
“We’re going to show the Boston Bruins how Canucks fans roll.”
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