I’m generally a pretty optimistic sports fan. I still believe the Avalanche is going to win the Stanley Cup this year and the Rockies are probably going to go 162-0. A year from now we’ll still be celebrating the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory while the Nuggets are defending their NBA championship that was amazingly won with only three players after injuries decimated the roster. And to me, that optimism is what is fun about being a sports fan. But on Feb. 4, the day before the Super Bowl, I woke up feeling grim. The Vancouver Canucks were in town to play the Colorado Avalanche and I was going to the game. The Canucks/Avalanche rivalry fills me with dread and shakes me to my very core.
Here’s an interesting note: I’m writing this on Feb. 15, as the Avalanche and Canucks play in Vancouver. So this ought to be an interesting exercise. Vancouver scored in the first 16 seconds ... yeah.
But back on Feb. 4, as I shoveled the 15 inches of snow from my driveway (seriously, was whoever is in charge of making it winter in Denver completely slacking off for the first few months? Then when February hit he said "OH MAN! I COMPLETELY FORGOT!" and then dumped all of the snow and all of the cold all at once), I thought about why the rivalry with Vancouver gives my sports fandom such an existential crisis. Mainly because of two numbers: 3 and 13. Over the past three years, the Avalanche have won three and lost 13 against the Canucks (The latest game was, um, not a good result).
Most Avalanche fans will say that the big rivalry is with the Detroit Red Wings. And they aren’t really wrong. Those games in the late 90’s and early 00’s were some epic battles between two elite teams. And who can forget the time Darren McCarty drowned all of those kittens in Cherry Creek? (I might be making that up.) But the now rosters are completely different from when Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon fought at center ice. The bad blood has cooled and the two teams haven’t met in the playoffs in a number of years.
But the Avs and Canucks are division rivals who play six times a year. Over the years, there has been some good hockey and there have been some extremely ugly incidents. But the results have just been crap of late.
The 13 losses include an 8-2 pounding and a 6-0 embarrassment. I was at the game that ended 8-2, back in Nov. 2009. I should have known it was going to be an unpleasant night going in. I found what I thought was a great deal for tickets on Craigslist. I paid the guy via Paypal but an error said to enter the payment again. Then the charge showed up in my account twice. The guy on Craigslist who had been super friendly during the negotiation process suddenly stopped responding to all phone calls and emails once he got twice his asking price. I called Paypal customer service, and without turning this into an episode of that show Outsourced (IMDB it), yes, customer service was in India. After a difficult conversation the guy on the other end said in perfect English "I don’t know why you want to go to this game anyway, the Avs are going to get crushed." Then, during the game, I decided to enjoy my first beer in weeks as I had been on some medicine that necessitated abstaining from alcohol. As the game turned south, that beer turned into, um, many.
So to recap that game, I got charged twice for my tickets, my team got slammed by a guy on a different continent, and I had a brutal hangover the next day. You may be saying that none of those things can really be blamed on the Canucks, but you’d be wrong. Just the fact that the Sedin twins are in town causes all sorts of crappy ions to be in the air or something.
But still, I go to the games when Vancouver is in town, and I watch the away games on TV. But I don’t really look forward to them: I basically watch in the same frame of mind I had when I watched the last couple seasons of Lost. Yes, it is just getting silly, and no, I don’t expect it to end well. I constantly find myself asking "who’s that guy again?" but good lord, at this point I’m invested. So what does that say about the Vancouver Canucks? They have robbed me of my sports optimism. I watch the games with this sense of foreboding, always expecting the worst. The Canucks cause me to doubt my sense of self and greater purpose in life. It was Roberto Luongo who called me as a young boy and told me there was no Santa Claus. Who does that? Bunch of jerks.
As I walked towards the Pepsi Center for the 1 p.m. game, I noticed how amazing the new snow looked on the mountains against the clear blue sky. I marveled at how stupid Coors Light is for having the mountains turn blue on their bottles when they’re cold when really it would make more sense if the mountains turned white, you know, um, the color of snow. And I lamented the fact that the blizzard hadn’t shut down the airport and prevented the Canucks from making it into town.
Jake Schroeder sang the anthems and the game started, then Vancouver scored. Or maybe Vancouver scored and then the game started; honestly it’s hard to tell any more. What’s strange is that all of the in-game entertainment is the same when the Canucks are in town. They did the Pepsi Bottle Cap Shuffle and the Hi-Lo Jersey Number game. Which I guess is nice, pretending everything is normal conveys a sense of assurance that this was a game like any other and nothing should be read too much into what fate might have in store. If I were in charge of the entertainment when the Canucks were in town the little games for fans during breaks would take on a darker tone: "For an autographed Avalanche jersey, answer this: ‘Does man really have free will?’" I’m guessing that might lead to complaints from some families.
But this game started to look good. About halfway through the first period, David Jones tied the game up. Then in the second, Jay McClement scored a pretty goal and the Avs took the lead. They held that lead into the third period. There was a glimmer of hope in my cold dark heart. (Cue Charlie Brown running) Time ticked down to just more than a minute, Luongo was pulled for the extra attacker. The Avs had a couple of chances at the empty net but weren’t able to put it home (Charlie Brown lines up the kick). Then a clearing attempt by the Avs was intercepted, and the puck ended up on the stick of Kevin Bieksa, who has averaged just fewer than six goals a year over seven seasons, naturally the person who you would expect to rip a laser right by Jean-Sebastien Giguere. (Lucy pulls the football away, Charlie Brown flies through the air and lands on his back, looking up at the sky and wondering why he even bothered). The game was tied with 34 seconds left.
Overtime yielded no goals, so the game was going to be decided in a shootout. This was the first shootout I had ever witnessed live, and ordinarily I would have been pumped. But given the letdown of the game being tied up with 34 seconds left or just the general fear of what the gods had in store, I was less than thrilled.
When you are in the building for the shootout it really seems to go by quickly. Avs missed, Canucks missed. Avs missed, Canucks scored. Aaaaaaand Avs missed. It was over. Canucks had won again. An optimistic person might have said "well at least the Avs got a point in the standings." I might have said that if it was any other team. But no. It was all yanked away again. The gods cackled in delight as the Sedin twins signed the contract to have a children’s playground bulldozed and replaced with a raw sewage plant. It’s a cold, dark world.
At least I’ll feel better this June, when Colorado wins the Stanley Cup. As long as the Canucks get knocked out in the first round.