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Making History

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
When the Vancouver Canucks skate out on to the General Motors Place ice on Tuesday to begin the post-All Star Game portion of their schedule, they’ll do so to the screams and adoration of 18,630 fans. But this won’t be just another sell-out at The Garage. Tuesday’s game against Dallas will mark the 200th consecutive time the building has been packed to see the Canucks do their thing.

“It’s great. The atmosphere in the building is like no other,” says Roberto Luongo who has given the home fans much to get excited about since his arrival at the start of the 2006-07 season. “It’s a huge difference when you’ve got a sell-out and they’re loud. As a player, you notice things like that and you appreciate them.”

The sell-out streak dates back to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on November 14, 2002. Back then, Brian Burke was the General Manager, Marc Crawford was the coach and guys like Todd Bertuzzi, Ed Jovanovski and Dan Cloutier were among the big names. Dave Nonis is now in charge, Alain Vigneault is behind the bench and Luongo leads the way along with the Sedins and Markus Naslund.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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The names have changed and so has the style the team plays, but the constant through it all is that every ticket for every game remains spoken for. Add it all up and more than 3.7 million people have passed through the doors of GM Place to catch a glimpse of their hockey heroes over the past five and a half years.

“It tells me that it’s a pretty good hockey city. It’s good to see here that the fans support us and keep coming to the games,” says Ryan Kesler who’s never played in front of anything but a sellout at GM Place. And the Canucks centre knows that isn’t the case in every building around the NHL. “I remember one time in St. Louis last year, I was looking around and there was about a thousand people in the stands for warm-up and I was like ‘Is anybody coming tonight?’ That was strange to see.”

That’s certainly a question the Canucks don’t have to ask when they’re at home. And fans have rarely had to ask about the outcome of games at the Garage throughout the sellout stretch. A ticket to a Canuck home game since the sell-outs began has been a ticket to a Canuck win far more often than not. Since that victory over the Kings to get the run started, the Canucks are 105-53-23 in 182 regular season games at GM Place. The only blemish on the mark has been the fact that the club is just 7-11 in 18 playoff games during that time.

But the Canucks have certainly provided drama in those post-season contests as four of the 18 games played on home ice were seventh games of series (2003 vs St. Louis and Minnesota, 2004 vs Calgary and 2007 vs Dallas). In some ways, it’s fitting the Stars are in town for the occasion since they provided the opposition for the quadruple marathon playoff opener last spring that would surely rate among the most memorable games during the sellout string.

“For the organization and the city, I think it’s a really big achievement. I think 200 sell-outs in a row is a huge number. We are all Canucks and people really relate to us,” says Alex Burrows. “And the way it was in the playoffs, we saw so much fan support. They’ve always been behind us even some nights when we get criticized or they’re not happy with our play, they’re still supporting us and are behind our team.”

And the support for the hockey team at the rink and around town has left an indelible impression on one of the newcomers on this year’s team who’d never felt such backing before.

“The reason there’s so much media coverage is because the fans want more. They want to know about everybody on the team and they’re totally involved with the team and the organization. Everybody’s a part of our team and our organization and it’s great to have so much support,” says defenseman Mike Weaver, whose previous NHL stops included Atlanta and Los Angeles. “I walk to the rink every day and it’s amazing. It’s a 15 minute walk and from the time I leave my place until I get here (GM Place), I’ve probably heard Canucks 10 times every day just walking down the street. It’s kind of crazy and I’m loving it.”

As a hockey team, the Canucks have done much to provide plenty of excitement for the fans of Vancouver. But the players would be the first to tell you they couldn’t have accomplished it without their loyal and faithful supporters. Win streaks may come and go, but the sellout streak is something the Canucks certainly hope continues for a long time.
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