EDMONTON – As a prominent member of Edmonton’s city council when the Oilers were winning Stanley Cups in the 1980s, Olivia Butti remembers a fancy car being scratched by a fan’s belt buckle as the victorious players were being paraded through crowded streets.
So she watched in astonishment Wednesday night as disappointed Vancouver Canucks fans set fire to vehicles, taunted police, smashed windows and looted stores.
“The joy was there; the celebration was there,” she said Thursday as she thought back to the Oilers dynasty. “But there wasn’t the maliciousness. There wasn’t the violence and I don’t know what is causing all that.”
Rowdy outbursts on the part of Canadian hockey fans caught up in a deep playoff run are not unique to the West Coast.
But each Canadian NHL city seems to have a different experience with its revellers. The offensiveness gamut runs from the women who doffed their tops in a Mardi-Gras-style salute to the Calgary Flames in 2004 to the downright drunken brawling in Vancouver in 1994 and the redux after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
“When you think about how emotionally tied Canadians are to their hockey, it’s not really that surprising,” said Lynne Perras of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts.
“It’s kind of our game,” said Perras, who has done research on Canadian hockey culture. “It’s the one thing we always trot out to say we’re the best at.”
Montreal has a rich history of hockey hooliganism dating back to 1955, when fans rioted over a suspension that ended Maurice Richard’s season. Richard did break his stick on an opponent and then punched a linesman, but Habs fans thought the heavy penalty was based on the Rocket’s francophone heritage. There were roughly 100 arrests and $100,000 worth of property damage during that riot.
After the Canadiens beat the L.A. Kings for the Cup in 1993, fans vandalized stores and set police cars ablaze. Nearly 170 people were injured and more than 100 were arrested. The violence caused an estimated $2.5 million in damage.
More recently, Montreal fans set cars on fire after their team beat the Boston Bruins in the first round in 2008 and looted after the Habs beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round last season.
But the stabbings and scuffles seen in Vancouver were a notch above that.
Montreal’s hockey riots are renowned for crimes against property, but person-on-person attacks are far less common. The events have, at times, seemed like well-orchestrated acts of theft and civil disobedience.
In 2010, it was a few hundred anti-police protesters who used a large hockey crowd as human cover to hurl bottles, rocks and other projectiles at officers. The scene could have been from a typical anti-globalization protest where hooded kids chant and swear at police.
In the background, another group—wearing less remarkable clothing and not chanting at all—prepared to go to work. These people smashed the windows of a liquor shop and sneaker store on Ste-Catherine Street and made off with some loot.
“When there are riots, it’s usually, even the police will tell you, it’s not necessarily even fans who are rioting,” said Darren Becker, a spokesman for Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
“It’s a sport that they respect, that they love and that they’re passionate about, and there’s ways to celebrate it without rioting. I think that 99 per cent of the fans are like that, so I think you would be careful not to lump everyone together.”
There is another common theme to Montreal’s rioting: it only tends to happen when the Habs win.
Fans in Calgary were lewd, but peaceful for the Flames 2004 loss in the final series. A strip of 17th Avenue S.W. was nicknamed the Red Mile. Lubricated revellers poured onto the street after each game.
The area became famous for women who, encouraged by the screaming crowd, frequently lifted their tops. Websites sprang up complete with photos.
Two years later, in 2006, the Oilers made an unexpected run to the final. Edmonton’s popular Whyte Avenue was given the handle the Blue Mile.
There was some nudity, but there was also violence. It culminated when the Oilers won the Western Conference final. Fans set fires and looted along Whyte, but the crowd eventually dispersed before a full riot could take hold. There were about 15 arrests.
“Clearly we learned as we went along on that one,” said Ben Henderson, who represents the area on city council. “By the time we actually got to the final game things were pretty peaceful.
“To be fair to Vancouver though, we seem tohave these problems all over. There seems to be something about the dynamic of large crowds and how quickly they can instigate and get going that is clearly problematic.”
Ottawa’s street celebrations, dubbed the Sens Mile, were downright civil when the Senators made the finals in 2007.
The Senators were far less competitive in that series. While both Edmonton and Calgary lost in seven games, the Sens were finished off in five by the Anaheim Ducks. Some fans had written off the Senators before Game 5.
Hockey rioting isn’t a problem Toronto has had to worry about. For years, people may have been wondering—perhaps fearing—how Canada’s largest city might handle a Stanley Cup victory.
But the question continues to go unanswered. The Leafs haven’t won a championship since 1967.
—With files from Chris Purdy, Bill Graveland in Calgary and Nelson Wyatt in Montreal.