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Canucks meet the North: Prince Rupert

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Larry Eastwood has no relation to Clint Eastwood.

Larry often jokes that while Clint moved to Hollywood and got famous, he moved to Prince Rupert and got wet.

On Saturday, September 7th, Larry wouldn’t have traded places with Clint for all the fame La-La Land has to offer.

“Rocket Richard came to Prince Rupert once, but that doesn’t compare to this visit.”

From September 7-10th, the Vancouver Canucks made a trek to British Columbia’s North Coast for the first time in franchise history, combining visits to Prince Rupert and Masset with a team fishing trip to the West Coast Fishing Club in Haida Gwaii.

Prince Rupert was the first stop of the trip and it was evident from the greeting a few of us non-famous, regular Canucks employees got, that the team was in for a treat.

When the players arrived to town, hundreds of zealous fans were waiting, just hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols. After cheering the team off the bus and into their hotel, the crowd redefined hustle as it made its way to the Russell Gamble gymnasium at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre where the Canucks would later spend the afternoon taking part in a meet and greet.

Before the players arrived, the roughly 1,500 fans in attendance, 90 per cent of which were sporting Canucks gear, many with their faces painted, homemade signs and unique memorabilia in hand, chanted and cheered in anticipation. The atmosphere was alive and electric; like a playoff Party on the Plaza after four cups of coffee.

Wild William Wesley, the midday radio host of CFNR Classic Rock, said he’d never seen Prince Rupert buzz the way it had leading up to the Canucks visit, but that he wasn’t surprised in the least.

“This is Canuck Nation,” Wesley boasted. “After wins there are cars driving around honking, I’ve seen close to 150 after big wins. Nobody is around on game nights, it’s a ghost town here, you can walk right down main street.

“The Canucks coming to meet these fans is very rewarding for everyone and it’s going to make Rupert an even bigger diehard Canucks city.”

After witnessing the organized chaos of the meet and greet, I don’t think it’s possible Prince Rupert becomes an bigger diehard Canucks city.

The players were ushered into the gym by a traditional drum welcome by the Tsimshian First Nations before dignitaries such as Simoy’git Niis Naganatto, Hereditary Chief of the traditional territory, Jack Mussallem, mayor of Prince Rupert, and Francesco Aquilini, Canucks chairman and governor, officially kicked off the festivities.

Then it was go-time.

Fans in attendance were each given a voucher with a number on it between 1 and 10. That number corresponded to a line where two or more players were waiting to sign autographs, shake hands, pose for photos and trade stories.

The enthusiasm for the Canucks turned this writer into the man in charge of line 2, featuring Alex Burrows and GM Mike Gillis. Standing tall and trying to look authoritative, despite being a marshmallow, I took vouchers, ensured everyone got enough time with Burrows and Gillis, and witnessed more touching moments than I ever expected.

There were tears of joy, high-fives, fist bumps, hugs and countless smiles – Burrows said his face actually hurt from smiling so much during the meet and greet. He and Gillis signed teddy bears and wedding dresses and pucks and jerseys and phones and nearly a cute puppy.

Kelly Brown, known around town as Chief Canuck because of the Canucks headdress and outfit he wears on game days, got a poster signed by both guys and the 41-year-old said it was one of the highlights of his life.

Meeting him was one the highlights of my day.

The headdress Brown wears was custom made in 2006 and features 104 Canucks flags spread from his lower back on one side to the other. A Canucks playoff towel, signed by Trevor Linden, sits in the centre of the headdress, while white animal pelts, complete with team logos sewn on, dangled over his ears to his chest. A shimmery Canucks blanket was draped over his back like a cape on top of his Johnny Canuck t-shirt, tucked into black pants highlighted with a wooden Canucks stick-in-rink belt buckle.

Chief Canucks’ hardcore outfit was matched with his attitude for the team; win, lose or draw, he’ll be cheering Vancouver on until the end.

“These fans are unlike any I’ve ever seen,” said Burrows, leaving the gym after a hectic afternoon.

“I hope that made their day because it made mine.”

And off the Canucks went, team bonding on the horizon having just bonded with passionate fans they normally don't get to thank.

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