My Heritage Classic: Molson Mania, Refreshing Rain, and an Enjoyable Loss

Let me start by saying… yes, it is way different on TV.

I was honoured, really, to be able to attend the Heritage Classic yesterday. I was also honoured to have it in my city – Vancouver – even though I don't really live in Vancouver – I live in White Rock. But Canada is a tribal country, truly, and our province seems to align around the Canucks very similar to the way Wisconsin aligns around the Green Bay Packers and nobody at all aligns around the Miami Heat.

The drive down and the Skytrain in was incredible. I hadn't really been excited for the game the night or days before, surprisingly, but I think that's mostly because everyone in the city told me I shouldn't be excited for it. That's just the way Vancouver is, the way question things and try to be alternative to big-budget affairs… we did it before the Olympics, too, asking ourselves silly whatevers, like whether the Games were actually (really) a big deal or whether you actually gave a darn (I can't say dam*, this is a community newspaper company, after all), when all we should have been doing was over-drinking and over-enjoying ourselves, not over-thinking it.

Sorry, back to the Heritage Classic and the Skytrain…

Every girl, woman, and man who cared was decked out, head-to-toe, in something retro Canuck. Most of the girls wore the maroon Millionaires, with the toque and the bobbing tassels, and a jersey without a name on the back. The majority of the dudes wore the maroon hats, put to shame by little dudes 10 or 15 or 20 years younger than them, who were of course proudly wearing the Canucks jersey of their favourite player, four or five sizes too big for them, and loving every minute of just being beside their Dad, their teacher, or whoever their escort was.

(I had on my 2004-era Brendan Morrison jersey, the ugliest one in team history, a white one with the whale in the middle and the blue, silver, and maroon stripes on the arm. I hadn't worn that BMo shirt in probably seven or eight years, because they decided to change their entire colour scheme only 24 months after I bought it.)

The jerseys were what you noticed first, especially at the Hockey House, which Molson brought back a full four years after it was THE place to be during the 2010 Games. There were tons of Senators jerseys, and a few Canadas. But mostly, there was that five layer dip of Canucks colours, which have changed drastically in the still-infant 44 years this team has existed. We started in 1970 with the original blue and green stick in the rink look. (Before that, we had the Johnny Canuck, which has now also been revived on shoulder patches and New Era hats.) Then we had the yellow, black, and orange V jersey. Then they improved it, adding the flying skate and then going through two whole jersey redesigns before they landed on the home run, the Linden/Bure jersey from the early 90s, the greatest ensemble the city of Vancouver has ever had… but, of course, they changed that, too. When Orca Bay bought the team, they just had to change the logo to a Killer Whale, and they replaced that beautiful swirl of yellow and red and black with some mutant paint-by-number – a navy, maroon, and silver look that sadly actually seemed cool after a while, because we were numb to how hideous it was and the team was winning, sort of. And now, we're back to the blue and green and sometimes the stick in the rink.

Oh, and just to mess with your bank account and your sense of relevancy, we now have the Millionaires and their maroon, too. It's an incredible jersey and a terrific combo of colours. I love the Millionaires stuff. But loving a Canucks uniform now is sort of like loving whatever phone Blackberry comes out with next. It's a tree falling in the forest, if you know what I mean.

I'm not sure why our ownership has had the attention span of a mosquito when it comes to our uniforms. They don't just change the logo or the jersey, they change the whole identity… and it happens every 10 years. Every new owner feels the need to make his mark on the team, even against better reason. Every new owner has been nothing more than a dog looking to coat the last empty space of the fire hydrant with its pee. Just. Because. It can.

But I should also thank our owners, and the NHL. More on that below the photo...

I must thank the owners – and the NHL – because they gave us this game. They gave us an atmosphere that was incredible in person, because 50,000 people could feel like they were a part of something truly special – something we had watched on TV since New Year's Day 2008 and coveted, even if we didn't know it until yesterday. I'm sure there were a lot of sarcastic, rolling eyes who didn't think the Heritage Classic mattered at all. Vancouver is the land of hipsters and ironic importance, after all. But just know that yesterday, I was happy to stand in the rain and flood into BC Place to watch the Canucks play hockey several hundred yards from where I was sitting, and that I was absolutely content and couldn't hear a negative word, Tweet, or tongue-in-cheek.

And then there was the game on TV, which I know – by experience viewing the previous outdoor games in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, etc. – is a better game to see.

We don't see a lot of the things we're supposed to see when we're there, in-person. This is true at Rogers Arena, so it's even more true at BC Place.

The '94 team was in and out in a flash, as was Sarah McLachlan's anthem. I didn't see any of their faces, or McLachlan's. I didn't even see Daniel Sedin leave the game with what looks like nothing less than a very serious lower-body injury – I didn't even know he was hurt until I saw the highlights at Jimmy's bar in Yaletown, maybe two hours after I left the stadium.

Come to think of it, I didn't even see a goal go in. I saw the shots, and it looked like the puck had disappeared, and then arms went up. It was thrilling when Vancouver scored. I really can't describe it, how they went up 2-0 right away and the place erupted, perhaps as much out of surprise as it was out of joy. It wasn't raucous in there. The Vancouver crowd is known for being rather un-emotional, at least physically, after all. But those two goals came in a 10-minute window where the reaction of the crowd wasn't one of fulfilled expectation or even relief… it was just simply, "Wow, we're going to win… and we're going to win in here. How cool is this?"

Of course, Ottawa made quick work of that two-goal lead, erasing it before the end of the first period. And then, they strategically controlled and picked apart the Canucks the rest of the way, taking a 3-2 lead on Cody Ceci's goal and then sealing it with Colin Greening's empty-netter.

But I'm not here to talk about the final score.

That's a different conversation for someone with a different attitude, and I was happy – frankly – to have one day where I didn't have to worry about Vancouver's playoff position, even though that was a very real consequence of their loss. The outdoor elements added an air of the unknown, and it really felt like, up until Greening's empty-netter, Vancouver could easily tie it up. None of the goals were of a Highlight of the Night variety – everything that went in came off a broken play or a lucky bounce. The winners were the ones who threw the most pucks at the net, and whenever a game comes down to that – whenever it has that "next goal wins" feeling – it lets you believe.

I heard a few people moan about the Heritage Classic, post-Classic. One of my friends said the only entertaining part of the game was when some guy ran on to the field and than ran around the Canucks bench, a fully-clothed streaker. I heard others say the crowd wasn't into it, stuff like that, and I may have even said it, too.

But the Heritage Classic was a much needed shot in the arm for a very boring, long, disappointing Canucks season. It was a Sunday of celebration. It was something to remember in a season to forget, at least so far. The hockey wasn't perfect, and I'm sure a beer or two were flat.

But our Canucks were finally a part of prime time, and so were the Senators – the two forgotten Canadian teams, at last invited entry to the NHL's party that Sidney Crosby has been invited to three times.

Vancouver was invited to the NHL's party. All of B.C. was, really.

And gosh darn it, I had a lot of fun.

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