Not all stories have a happy ending and unfortunately for the Vancouver Canucks that rang true tonight at the Pacific Coliseum in their first ever NHL game.
In front of a sellout crowd of 15,062 anxious fans hoping for a maiden victory, the Canucks fell to the visiting Los Angeles Kings 3-1 thanks to a two-goal outing from forward Bob Berry.
The game, which aired live across Canada on a special Friday night edition of Hockey Night in Canada, had all the glitz and glam of a Hollywood movie premiere, complete with a red carpet centre ice ceremony with the Stanley Cup featuring BC Premier W.A.C. Bennett, Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell, Chief Dan George, former Vancouver Millionaires superstar Cyclone Taylor and NHL president Clarence Campbell, alongside the British Columbia Beefeater Band.
With Vancouver forwards Andre Boudrias, Rosaire Paiement and Poul Popiel, defencemen Marc Reaume and Darryl Sly and goaltender George Gardner lined up on their blueline, “Our Pet” Juliette Sysak (from the CBC TV series Juliette) sang the national anthems before referee Lloyd Gilmour dropped the historic first puck at 8:22 p.m. PST.
The pre-game cheering turned to a hush as play got under way; Canucks fans, many of whom shelled out as much as $6.50 for a ticket, eager for the first goal and first lead in franchise history, showed their support with loud cheers when Vancouver got in close on LA goaltender Denis Dejordy.
After a scoreless opening period, the second frame was highlight by more scoring chances on both sides with Dejordy and Vancouver’s Gardner holding their ground until Ross Lonsberry opened the scoring for LA, much to the surprise of Jim Robson and Jack Dennett, calling play-by-play and colour commentary for CBC.
Lonsberry’s power play goal at 9:26 of the second put the Kings up 1-0 and just over 10 minute later Bob Berry added some insurance with a goal eight seconds before the end of the period.
The Canucks were down but far from out of the game early in the third when defenceman Barry Wilkins achieved the impossible scoring Vancouver’s first-ever goal 2:14 in. The players, coaches and fans celebrated like never before and although the Kings responded with another goal from Berry minutes later, the aura of that first goal will live on forever.
Gardner finished with 24 saves for the Canucks, while Dejordy matched him with 24 of his own helping Los Angeles spoil Vancouver’s NHL debut.
Vancouver’s next game is Sunday afternoon when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coach Hal Laycoe is sure to have the Canucks ready to do battle, fingers crossed they paint a masterpiece for the first time.