So I am wrapping up a "working/fun" weekend vacation in Seattle and Vancouver with my wife. (I brought her here as a birthday gift!)
The real reason we came this way was to see The Police play their first concert in 21 years, and we did that last night at the G.M. Place, the fancy, new-ish arena downtown here in Vancouver (it’s where the NHL Canucks play!)
In the midst of this bizarre trip to two remote cities, we’ve come to realize what a grip hockey has on the entire country of Canada, even here in Vancouver, where their team was eliminated two rounds ago.
Tonight is a big deal in Canada, because Game 1 of the Stanley Cup between Anaheim and Ottawa is being played. We’re going to this happening sports bar/club to take in the excitement and can already anticipate quite a scene.
What I can tell you is this: we got here on Saturday (a day early, long story…) but found out that a hockey tournament was being held here. It’s the Memorial Cup for the championship of the Canadian Junior Leagues. If you’re not a hockey fan, you probably wouldn’t understand Canadian Junior Hockey (I’ve been a fan for 30 years and don’t "totally" understand it), but it’s akin to watching a high school/fresh-soph equivalent to the NCAA Final Four. It’s a championship and a celebration, all in one.
Teams from all over Canada and the upper United States have players from 16 to 21 years of age, and they’re mostly "NHL" property and are sent to "Juniors" to get experience — like a college loan out without the classes. Once they get older, they move to the AHL, and end up in Hershey.
Anyway, the tournament has been going on in Vancouver for 10 days and it all culminated Sunday afternoon in a championship game between the Medicine Hat Tigers and coincidentally, the host Vancouver Giants.
They play their home games in the old Pacific Coliseum, where the Vancouver Canucks played all of their games in the heyday of the hideous Flying-V jerseys. The Canucks hosted and lost Stanley Cup finals games here in 1982 and 1994.
Vancouver has never won a championship, outside of the Grey Cup, which coincidentally included the Baltimore Stallions in Nov. 1994. This was my only other trip to Vancouver, and I loved the city but have just never made it back until Sting and the boys decided to make this the kickoff of their first world tour.
Man, has this place CHANGED! WOW…it’s stunningly and alarmingly larger, almost like Hong Kong. It has GIANT high-rise glass structures along the skyline and one of the most dramatic vistas in the world. The only other place I’ve seen that is even similar is Rio de Janeiro. It’s just a gorgeous place!
The cultural clash of East and West, Canadian and Asian people and principles and free-spiritedness is almost like San Francisco. It’s a cool place, Vancouver!
Above is a picture of a dude who was wearing an Orioles shirt and an Indianapolis Colts hat. I bumped into him at the hockey game. He thought I was a little nuts and I thought the same of him. But the Canadians are neat — wacky, funny, strange sense of humor. Just watching their television ads cracks my wife up!
So, I know I’m all over the place this morning with my little travelogue, but it’s been a lot of fun and a lot of cool stories. (I really didn’t plan on blogging on this trip, but the "sports" and "community" angles have really struck me over the last 48 hours, because hockey and this culture are nearly inseparable!)
The best story I have ISN’T The Police concert, which was kind of ordinary to be honest. Peter Buck and Mike Mills from R.E.M. were in the row in front of me, and Eddie Vedder said hello to Mills. Buck and Vedder live in Seattle, so it was only a two-hour drive.
BUT…The Police and other Rock and Roll Hall of Famers sitting near me will NOT be the best story from Vancouver!
My best memory from this trip will be this: I saw my first-ever hockey game in Canada yesterday. I’ve seen a thousand hockey games — I covered hockey for eight years, Caps and Skipjacks — and even did lots of road games. I’ve seen NHL and AHL games in probably 20 states!
But I NEVER saw a game in Canada – until yesterday!
My wife and I went to the Memorial Cup, scalped a pair of tickets in the parking lot for $200 US (YES, it was a MAJOR sold out scene here, especially with the home team in the game). And, YES, it was worth it.
All of the pictures you see in this blog were taken yesterday. We saw Gordie Howe. Bobby Orr was there. So was Michael J. Fox, who is from Vancouver.
The game was magnificent, a 1-1 tie with just under six minutes left in the third period when a kid from the home team (and a Vancouver native as well) scored the game-winner, eliciting mayhem in this old ice rink in suburban Vancouver.
You would have thought they’d won the Stanley Cup. The dude sitting in front of me bluntly told the tale: "Vancouver never wins a championship in anything. So this is a big deal here!"
One postscript: The whole tournament had a "festival" feel to it, with tents in the parking lot, games for kids — you know the drill! And the post-game concert yesterday was with Loverboy.
Now, the Dundalk dork in me in 1981 thought Loverboy was the greatest band on earth, so we had to drop in and at least see a few songs.
Below is a pic I clipped of Mike Reno, who looks like he swallowed the other Mike Reno. The band was just painfully horrible. We stayed five songs and left. It was tragic watching Loverboy perform in their home town 26 years after "Working for the Weekend" in this condition.
So, tonight is Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and we’re going to a local sports bar to check out the scene.
We’ll report in later…and I’ll give you a Police concert review as well…like I said, I thought it was kinda ordinary! They looked good, sounded good but reworked a LOT of their material in strange ways. More to come…
I’ve gotta get on a dorky big red bus through Vancouver and see Stanley Park.