VANCOUVER – The last time the Vancouver Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup final, it didn’t end well.
First, they lost the 1994 series to the New York Rangers. Then, rioters in Vancouver caused $1 million in damage in a melee that left 200 people injured and led to charges against more than 150 people.
Vancouver police are hoping to avoid a repeat as the Canucks prepare to enter the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 17 years, and they’re planning on spending as much as a half-million dollars to keep crowds under control.
Police Chief Jim Chu said the force is hoping the post-game celebrations look more like the nightly street parties that came to define last year’s Winter Olympics, when tens of thousands of cheering fans flooded the city’s downtown, mostly without incident.
“People do want to have a good time, they do want to be safe, and they want to work with us, as well,” Chu told reporters Wednesday, a day after the Canucks’ Game 5 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks.
“During the Olympics … many people came down and we had great crowd dynamics. In fact, if you were a hooligan during the Olympics, the crowd policed itself, and people talked to others acting up and said, ‘Look, we’re all trying to have a good time here.'”
After Tuesday’s victory, about 20,000 people came into the city’s Granville Street entertainment district, and Chu said they were largely well-behaved. Six people were arrested for public drunkenness, and officers poured out liquor about 140 times, but there were few other incidents of note.
Police closed off several blocks of Granville Street to traffic to make room for the crowds, and there were almost 100 officers keeping watch over the festivities, chatting with partiers and stepping in if they saw anyone getting out of hand.
That meet-and-greet strategy is something Chu credits for keeping the Olympic crowds under control, even when they swelled following the Canadian men’s hockey team’s gold medal victory.
It was a tactic that wasn’t used in 1994, said Chu. Instead, the force decided to keep its crowd-control unit hidden inside a church basement on standby, only mobilizing after the riot began.
By then, it was too late.
“I worked the ’94 Stanley Cup playoffs, and I was there for many of the games,” recalled Chu.
“Policing large events like this, the crowd-control unit will be out on the streets, they will be highly visible, they’ll be welcoming people to downtown and making sure they know that there’s a police presence there to make sure everyone’s safe.”
The police department estimated it could spend as much as $650,000 policing the playoffs, with $500,000 of that reserved for a possible run in the final round for theStanley Cup.
Whether the force ends up spending that much depends on how long it takes for the Stanley Cup to be handed over to the winner, said Chu.
“A lot of it depends on the weather, how many games a series goes, if the Canucks go four straight, which we always hope for, then it’ll be less,” said Chu.
The first game of the final will be played in Vancouver, but the NHL has not announced a date yet.