The Vancouver Canucks
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At one time Vancouver’s hockey team, the Canucks, held the odious distinction of being the least successful professional sports franchise in history. This was gauged by the win/loss ratio, which for the Canucks, was horrible. Surprisingly, the Canucks had a very loyal fan base that learned to love them, despite their losing ways.

The Canucks entered the NHL in 1970 as Vancouver’s professional hockey team. Canada already had two very successful franchises in Toronto and Montreal, both had won the Stanley Cup multiple times and Montreal was already a dynasty. The Canucks had very high expectations to live up to, being a Canadian hockey franchise.

From the start, management adopted a hard nosed play style, drafting tough players who could handle the gritty nature of professional hockey. There’s a saying among Canadians regarding hockey that goes, “I went to see a fight last night and a hockey game broke out.” This is a tongue in cheek reference to the amount of fighting that occurs in hockey, bare knuckled, blood soaked fighting that you can almost count on every single game played. It’s become a part of the sport, fans love it, and if a referee tries to break up a fight before it’s run its course, the fans boo loudly and bitterly. Attendance slips and revenues drop off, so the league and management no longer try to curb fighting, they let the combatants have their fight, and the arena switches from a hockey arena to a fight arena as soon as a fight starts.

A spot light shines on the combatants and follows them around the rink, players on both teams cheer their team mate on, players on the bench bang their hockey sticks loudly on the rink walls in support, fans go crazy, everyone is on their feet, and “fight style” music erupts from the arena speakers. It’s big business and the league knows it.

It’s this culture into which the Vancouver Canucks launched their franchise, and clearly management had a plan to capitalize on it. One could argue whether or not the management ever had designs on winning in the first place, or whether they opted for a guaranteed fan draw by drafting a team filled with brawlers. Either way, one thing is clear, the Vancouver Canucks rarely, if ever, lost a fight. This made them wildly popular with their fans and the rest of the league’s fans, which loved to watch a game where Vancouver played, since they knew they’d be treated to at least one barbaric display of brutality.

Over the years, times changed, and although fighting was still popular, teams managed to incorporate a degree of toughness into their lineup sufficient to deal with any brawl that occurred, while still putting a skilled team on the ice capable of winning games. The concept of “team enforcer” was born, where every team drafted a designated tough-guy, whose job was to make sure the team’s skilled players weren’t intimidated or roughed up beyond the norm. His job was essentially to be the team police officer.

As this trend took hold, teams like the Canucks fell in popularity, as fans recognized they didn’t have to sacrifice quality for toughness, they could have it all. So the Vancouver Canucks had to change, and change they did. They began drafting skilled players from Europe and Russia, and the team began to win. It was a transition though, and took time, but by the 1980’s they were not only in the playoffs, they were winning and progressing to the next round, and in 1982 they made it to the Stanley Cup final, the first time ever. It wasn’t to be, but it showed the Canucks and the league that the Canucks had arrived, and were a skilled, quality team.

Through this time, the Canucks’ fan base grew in size, loyalty, and knowledge. Websites and blogs dedicated to the Canucks were easy to find, and forums discussing the Canucks were active with speculation and the latest news. Your typical Vancouver blogger was a hockey player himself, as Vancouver has dozens of amateur leagues and “beer leagues” where hockey isn’t just a sport, it’s a religion. As a result, Vancouver blogs are rich sources of hockey information, where trade rumors, management direction, and upcoming games are discussed at length.

Today, the Vancouver Canucks are considered one of the premiere franchises in the NHL, and have established themselves as a first class organization which any player would be proud to play for. Their history as a roughneck team doesn’t hurt them one bit, as the fighting culture is still strong in hockey, so strong that hockey commentators regularly debate which team’s enforcer is the toughest in the league. They usually don’t have to debate long, as enforcers love to challenge each other, almost every game in fact. So, these disputes are settled like all hockey disputes, on the ice.


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