Hockey night in Canada

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Friday, June 17, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

VANCOUVER, B.C. — First we saw a scuffle between teenagers in a park, then a block later a young man lighting a garbage can on fire. Next, another block down Georgia Street, a car was engulfed in flames, and suddenly it was clear a hockey crowd had turned into something much different. Something mu

ch worse.

On a whim, I pointed my car north Wednesday morning to go to Vancouver for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Canucks and the Boston Bruins. A little over a year earlier, I had seen the very best of this city as tens of thousands of fans celebrated a hockey gold medal and the culmination of the 2010 Winter Olympics. I hoped to be a part of something similar; instead, by the end of the night, like a handful of other reporters more accustomed to covering sports, I was documenting a riot.

In the end, this was nothing like the scene on the streets following Canada’s hockey victory over the United States last winter. This was a different crowd, a different outcome in the game, and sadly, a much different night for a great city. Instead of cheering and impromptu versions of “O Canada,” the night’s soundtrack was made up of shattering glass, barking police dogs, circling helicopters and canisters of tear gas bouncing on pavement.

The ugly violence of Wednesday night has been well documented by now — the arrests, the injuries, the car fires and the looted businesses. What remains is sadness.

As rioters took turns smashing the window of a Chapters bookstore, one onlooker, who declined to give his name, expressed embarrassment for his city.

“I’m ashamed,” he said. “Why would anyone do this to their own city?”

Seeing only a limited scope of the violence and destruction was more than enough to know this night would leave a lasting scar on the city. Windows of countless downtown businesses were smashed, and looters ran into stores like Sears and Footlocker to steal what they could. One Canucks fan tried to stop people from going into the Sears and was briefly beaten for his efforts. Near Robson Street, a fire burned in an alley as a resident two stories above tried to put it out with a hose.

At one point, as cops continued to move the crowd out of the downtown core, I sent the following text to Seattle Times reporter Danny O’Neil, who was also chronicling the night: “The cops moved the crowd. Now we’re on Robson and Hornsby by the looted Footlocker.” That followed a text that placed our location as, “Robson and Howe, near the burning garbage can.”

These are not normal things to be texting on a Wednesday night in downtown Vancouver.

And for the second time in a little over a year, I found myself feeling sad as I walked the streets of Vancouver late at night. In 2010, it was sadness over the fact that an amazing 19 days had ended. Wednesday night, it was sadness that such a wonderful city was capable of such an ugly night.

“I’m so embarrassed for our city,” said a server at a downtown bar, shaking her head as TVs showed images of the destruction taking place only a few blocks away. A few feet away, an obviously intoxicated young man gleefully shouted to his friends, “Let’s go rioting.”

Sad.

In 1994, a similar scene went down after the Canucks lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, but the hope was that, after a mostly peaceful Olympics, the city had grown up and was beyond that kind of ugliness. Instead, the next day’s dominant story was not about what went wrong for the Canucks in Game 7, but what went wrong for the city.

Yet as sobering as it was to see the damage Thursday morning, it was also heartening to see the better side of the city on display. By 8 a.m. dozens of people, many still wearing Canucks gear, were working alongside business owners and employees to clean up the mess from the night before. By Thursday afternoon, thousands had joined various Facebook groups calling for volunteers to clean up Vancouver.

Riding the train out of downtown Vancouver Thursday morning, three young fans, still wearing jerseys and faded face paint, lamented the loss to the Bruins. This should have been the heartache felt in Vancouver the day after. Instead, it was something much worse.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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