If opportunity would have knocked, they were ready.
When I was contacted about a group of Vancouver fans gathering in San Jose for Friday night’s game, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Told to meet them at The Old Wagon Saloon and Grill pre-game, I did just that, and you wouldn’t believe what I discovered.
Walking into the saloon, a saloon as close to an actual saloon from old western movies than any saloon ever, two Sharks fans were sitting along the right wall, another two along the bar to the left and three at a booth further down.
Confused as to where Canucknation was hiding, I checked out the patio and was pleasantly surprised to find more than 60 fans, all beer in hand, soaking up the hot Californian sun in Canucks shirts, jerseys, scarves and hats, holding flags and towels, one fan even had an old school Canucks lunchbox.
It was the perfect pre-game gathering, one organized by Roneil Grant, a tour director with an intense love of hockey and the Canucks.
Grant, the president of Highlight Reel Productions Inc, a company combining sports, travel and live events into tours around North America, is also an usher at Rogers Arena and a few years ago he gathered other ushers to go watch the Canucks play abroad.
The group has grown leaps and bounds since then, so much so that Canucks fans were highly visible and loud as ever on Long Island, in New York and Washington in January of this year and in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix and San Jose in March.
That was partially Grant’s doing, and since the Canucks went 6-1 in road games attended by him and his crew this season, it was only natural to do something for the playoffs.
“It’s pretty euphoric, that’s probably the best word I can use to describe it,” said Grant, of cheering on the Canucks in enemy territory.
“It’s so much fun meeting all these Canucks fans everywhere and meeting people who are from Vancouver, but have moved out of town and miss home. Our group always grows at games as we round out other fans and it’s just such a rush, it’s great.”
After a hearty salute from the growing group of Canucks fans on the patio of the saloon, I journeyed to HP Pavilion a few blocks away to prepare for the game. During the walk the impact of Grant taking charge and organizing a meeting point for Vancouver supporters truly set in.
First I passed a group of 10 Canucks fans just rounding the corner heading to the saloon, all in jerseys, then five more, then 15 more, then another four, five more after that, four more following them, two with flags next and four more as I crossed the street.
It was five blocks of nothing but Canucks fans, with not a single Sharks fan in sight. Vehicles honked and people yelled from cars, but not to support San Jose, instead trying to dampen the spirit of those in the blue, green and white.
There was no dampening, quieting or controlling these same fans pre-game. When the group of a couple hundred walked into the arena, Sharks fans booed, but within seconds they were overpowered by a ‘GO CANUCKS GO’ chant.
If the pre-game support was an indication of how the game would play out, the Canucks had it in the bag.
Unfortunately it wasn’t, and early Sharks goals had the home crowd on its feet and deafeningly loud. Canucks fans never had a chance, but that should change Sunday.
Expect even more Vancouver support for Game 4, which conveniently falls on the Sunday of a long weekend. Road trip indeed, one worth every penny.
“The moment San Jose won, I booked everything and I was good to go,” said Natasha Carpio, another Rogers Arena usher along for the trip.
“This is phenomenal. It’s amazing to be there, and to see this amount of support on the road, following the team and supporting the team, it’s unreal.
“I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one who made the trip out here, I’m glad there are others and it’s a great way to bond with everyone. The Canucks unite us all.”