I have another athletic passion, too, although it’s shared by few of my neighbours. NHL hockey. Specifically, the Vancouver Canucks.
I know what you’re thinking: What? How does a guy halfway around the world get to be a Canucks Super Fan? Well, it’s a sordid tale of sleep deprivation and travel across great distances. Read on.
The first thing you need to know is this: watching the team on TV is an ordeal. Switzerland is nine hours ahead of Vancouver. Think about that next time you’re alighting the SkyTrain at Stadium Station, chattering excitedly about the upcoming game, streaming into GM Place. I’m waking up, pulling on a T-shirt, and going into the TV room to switch on the game.
Lara definitely thinks I’m strange for getting up at 4 a.m., but she understands that I have a fever for the Canucks. Besides, the late nights don’t bother her unless I’m unfit to go shopping with her the next day.
Just kidding, sort of.
I sit alone, in the dark, and while I’m watching I eat a bit of breakfast. The men in my family understand my monkish devotion to a faraway team, but they’re more interested in squads with Swiss players, like the Canadiens (Mark Streit) and Senators (Martin Gerber).
Vancouver and Zurich, as you probably know, both rank among the world’s most livable cities. I’ve lived in both. Zurich has lots going for it, it’s true—a beautiful lake, some old buildings, and an expensive shopping district—but I find the people here less open-minded than those in Vancouver.
I suppose it’s that Vancouverites are friendlier. In Zurich everyone is absorbed in his own tasks, but in Vancouver people always tried to help me find the stores or bars I was looking for.
My first time in the city was two and a half years ago; I was there on a 13-week mission to improve my English. I lived with a homestay family and took classes at one of the ESL colleges near Granville Station.
I chose Vancouver as my English destination because it had an NHL franchise. Unfortunately, I arrived in March 2005, right in the middle of the lockout. I ended up watching WHL games, but, as good as they are, they’re the coffee-table peanuts before dinner: they can only whet your appetite.
Three months later I went back to Switzerland. The first thing I did was order a digital pay-per-view package from my television agent. The one I got featured all the Hockey Night in Canada games live, and, so, for $20 a month I was able to catch a Canucks game every two weeks.
Seriously? A game a fortnight for a true Canucks fan? I’m sure most of you agree—it isn’t nearly enough. I did the only reasonable thing for a guy in my position: I started to make plans to return to Vancouver and see the boys play, live, at GM Place.
You remember how I said it’s a sordid tale of sleep deprivation and travel over great distances? At this point I should mention something about the expense.
After plunking around online, I was able to buy club seats for a three-day home stand in early 2006—January 3rd, 5th, and 7th, against Dallas, Edmonton, and Florida. I was ecstatic and quickly booked a flight. The game tickets and air travel cost me $3000.
I arrived in Vancouver on January 2nd, after 11 hours in the air. The next day, I went looking for autographs at the morning skate. I didn’t get any, although I was more successful at the Edmonton game. I got Roberto Luongo
, Jason Smith, Steve Staios, and many others on my Team Canada jersey, and the Sedins signed pucks and cards for me.
The high moment of my trip was getting Ryan Smyth’s autograph on the emblem of my Team Canada jersey. It went like this: I met some guys at GM Place who were hunting autographs. They took me to the Oilers’ hotel. A short time later, the team left for practice, and the autograph hounds followed them down to GM Place. Just Ken and I stayed, standing, in front of the hotel. Suddenly Ryan Smyth came out. We chatted a bit and he signed my jersey. I guess he figured I was a tourist, because of my English.
The games themselves were brilliant. The Canucks won all three—two in shootouts and one in overtime. I was amazed by the speed and the intensity of the games and the atmosphere at GM Place. It was special for me to see superstars like Luongo, Naslund, and the Sedins. It is very difficult for Europeans to see these guys, because they play so far away.
So, that’s my story. You may think it’s stupid to fly such a long time and spend so much money just to watch a hockey team, but it was worth it—I satisfied a desire. And my trip to Vancouver sealed it—I’ll be a lifelong Canucks fan.