Beards were the only thing missing.
The bus ride was the same Saturday morning as it was throughout the Stanley Cup Final.
Tense. Quiet. Focused.
As the bus arrived at TD Banknorth Garden and began the precision turning necessary to line it up to back up the massive ramp that serves as an entrance to the arena, I couldn’t help but chuckle.
Before Game 4 of the Final, the bus sat idly waiting at the bottom of the ramp for the door up top to open. The elderly bus driver, feeling the stare down he was getting from coach Alain Vigneault, was yelling into his two-way radio like a cattle auctioneer, trying to get the Vancouver Canucks into the building.
As the smell of exhaust began to spread its way throughout the bus, Vigneault asked for the doors to be opened before hollering “everybody off.”
It was 700 degrees outside that afternoon and the Canucks, in suits, were forced to walk up what Garden employees call the ‘elephant ramp,’ a horizontal slope with a 30-degree incline built to accommodate the Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus.
As the bus came to a halt inside the Garden today, the smell of the legendary arena caught my attention. It’s funny how a uniquely Boston combination of beer and deep fried everything can bring memories flooding back.
I watched the players like a hawk as they made their way off the bus and through the labyrinth of extra chairs and equipment in the bowels of the arena. The Canucks might as well have been in Buffalo than Boston; no one raised a brow.
As the players filled the dressing room, I ventured to the team bench and although I knew exactly where not to look, I couldn’t help it.
Boston Bruins and Stanley Cup Champions 2011 in black writing on a yellow backdrop with a massive team logo. Some have never seen anything prettier; I’ve never hated a banner more. Or fabric.
One by one players made their way to the bench and inevitably looked up as well, this banner is like a car crash, you can’t help but sneak a peak.
Surprisingly it didn’t faze coach Vigneault, or Cory Schneider, or Chris Higgins, or Dan Hamhuis, although he was pondering more than what to listen to pre-game as he sat on the Canucks bench for a good five minutes.
The only sigh I heard came from assistant general manger Laurence Gilman. He took a deep breath before quietly saying “three hours away” under his breath and walking back down the team tunnel alongside Mike Gillis.
The Canucks were three hours away from winning the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Final, twice, but it wasn’t meant to be in either Game 6 or 7.
The players are over it. Truly. They aren’t lying about the two points being the biggest thing on the table in today’s game.
It’s early, but those two points could go a long way in determining where the Canucks sit come playoff time.
If the Cup Final proved anything, it’s that home ice advantage can turn the tide in a series.