On Sunday the Vancouver Canucks will play their 3,000th regular season game in franchise history when they face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
To some, it seems like just yesterday the Canucks officially joined the NHL. For others, the team has been a part of the league as far back as they can remember. Either way, it’s been a memorable ride so far and it all began 38 years ago.
On May 22, 1970, the Canucks, then a member of the Western Hockey League, were promoted to the big show where they competed in the East Division alongside five of the NHL’s original six teams and the expansion Buffalo Sabres.
“It was extremely tough being an expansion team,” recalled former defenceman Dennis Kearns
, who is sixth all-time in games played with the Canucks at 677.
“There were a lot of great established teams like Boston, they had a great team, Chicago had a great team, Montreal, of course, had a great team, the Rangers were great, there were many, Philadelphia had a heck of a team, so it was difficult.”
Kearns was a member of the Canucks from 1971 to 1981, during that time he witnessed first hand how the team grew from oblivion and slowly rooted itself within the city and province.
Led by the likes of Orland Kurtenbach
, Andre Boudrias
and Don Lever
, the Canucks teeter-tottered their way through the standings throughout the 70s before the 80s rolled around and the team made its first push for the Stanley Cup.
“Yep, they really missed me,” laughed Kearns, who retired a season before Vancouver lost to the New York Islanders in the 1982 Cup finals.
“They went right to the finals the next year, they had a really great team. You always hope you’re there for a run like 82, but I have no qualms about it, I’m just fortunate and I count my blessings that I played ten years with the Canucks.”
After that initial flurry to the finals to start the decade, Vancouver hit the 1,000 game plateau and slumped for the rest of the 80s, never finishing higher than third in the Smythe Division.
Still, fans were treated to years of cherished memories courtesy of Stan Smyl
, Richard Brodeur
, Tony Tanti
, Thomas Gradin
and Patrik Sundstrom
, among others.
The groundwork laid by these players led to a noticeable change in the Canucks and their place in the standings to start the 1990s.
Two consecutive divisional crowns set the stage for the epic drama that was the 1993-94 Stanley Cup run, 24 games defined by determination, character and heart that sent a shockwave through the hockey world.
“That was just an amazing time and I learned a lot as a person from it,” said Cliff Ronning
, a prominent figure on the Vancouver team that came within a game of a Stanley Cup win in 93-94, a season and a half before the club’s 2,000th game.
Ronning played alongside Trevor Linden
, Pavel Bure
, Kirk McLean
, Geoff Courtnall
, Greg Adams
, Dave Babych
and Gino Odjick
, to name a few, on what is considered the best Canucks team in club history.
“You really realize that teamwork is very crucial when you get to that stage and you can’t do things on your own, you need everyone’s abilities,” added Ronning, who played 366 games in his hometown.
Through the ups and downs that came with living and dying alongside the Canucks during the 90s, one common thread became linked with hockey in Vancouver. The team wasn’t always atop the standings, but according to Ronning, a solid effort was routinely put forth and that fighting spirit has molded the Canucks into who they are today.
“It’s not all about winning and losing, it’s about how hard you try when you’re out on the ice. It’s okay sometimes to lose, as long as you give it everything you have; people really respect that in Vancouver.
“I think for the most part people from BC are very hard workers so that’s what they respect, people working hard for a common goal. They respect players that work like that, say a player like Alex Burrows that had to flight and claw to get to that position to play for Vancouver.”
Burrows is one of numerous Canucks that have helped define the team since the turn of the millennium. Roberto Luongo
, Daniel and Henrik Sedin
, Ryan Kesler
, Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell are also on that list, while former Canucks Markus Naslund
, Brendan Morrison
and Todd Bertuzzi
are gone but not forgotten as they were the faces of the franchise a short time ago.
About to land on 3,000 games, today’s Canucks are as popular as ever as they continue to wage their battle against the rest of the NHL in search of that elusive grail.
Win, lose or draw - there have been many of each throughout franchise history - the Canucks have always been adored in Vancouver. Without that top-notch support from the fans, this milestone would have never been possible.
“3,000 games means that myself as a player, my peers, and the alumni before us, we just all have to thank the fans,” said Mitchell, a BC product still living his childhood dream of playing for the Canucks.
“We wouldn’t be at 3,000 games if it wasn’t for the people tuning into the TV or listening on the radio or on the web or coming to the games. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be sitting here and talking about 3,000 games in Vancouver Canucks history.”
Over the past 38 years the Canucks and their fans have experienced everything from the intoxicating highs that accompany breathtaking moments, to the devilish lows resulting from missed opportunities, all the while never losing faith in one another.
We Are All Canucks and Vancouver’s 3,000th game is a healthy reminder of just how storied the franchise has become.
Time really does fly when you’re having fun.