VANCOUVER – Both Vancouver’s city and its hockey team have had a tortured relationship with the Stanley Cup, but experts say the Olympics healed the wounds of the 1994 hockey riot.
After the Canucks lost game seven to the New York’s Rangers 17 years ago, thousands of people converged on the downtown core to fight, smash windows, loot stores, overturn cars and throw bricks.
About 200 people were hurt, another 150 were arrested, and city officials and police were left with a lingering embarrassment that set off a series of rule changes so restrictive that Vancouver earned the nickname No-Fun City.
Ian Tostenson, the president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the city has grown up since then and he can’t see another riot happening.
“I don’t think we realized how important hockey was,” he recalled. “We were sort of jolted by the whole event. I would call it an immature society at the time.”
The 2010 Olympic Games were a major factor in getting rid of the city’s growing pains and making it a more international city, he said.
Security for the Games cost over $500 million, and while there were protests and even some property damage from those involved, Tostenson called it a minor blip.
But it was the years getting prepared for the event that changed the mindset of people coming to the city to celebrate and have fun without getting involved in violence, he said.
“So I think by the time we get to where we are today, we’ve just had enough experience and I don’t know anybody who would even think for a moment… about (a riot), whether we win the Stanley Cup or not.”
Vancouver Police learned many lessons from the 1994 riot, including that officers need to make their presence known.
Spokeswoman Const. Jana McGuinness said the force is predicting very large crowds for the final playoff round and there will be wall-to-wall police coverage for the first two games, at home, on Wednesday and Saturday.
“It will be very obvious. We’ll have officers in highly-visibile reflective vests in every block walking up and down through the entertainment district. Every few feet you’ll bump into an officer.”
The officers who will mix with the crowds are from the so-called public safety unit—what was once the riot squad—a model McGuinness said has been very effective.
“A lot of lessons were learned from the 1994 incident. There was a thorough report done after that.”
It was that report that suggested liquor store closures on event nights, a recommendation that was followed during the 2010 Games, but McGuinness said police won’t be asking for the closures for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tostenson said because liquor laws have changed since 1994, televisions are allowed in restaurants and people can enjoy dinner and don’t have to leave to get a drink and watch the game.
McGuinness said during the Olympics, there were so many families out, police saw the crowd policing itself, acting as a deterrent for anyone who was acting up.
This is the third time the Canucks have made a play for the Stanley Cup.
In 1982, the team took on the New York Islanders and lost in four straight games. In 1994, the Canucks made it to seven games against the New York Rangers before losing.
Jason Beck, curator of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, said in 1982 the team was vastly under skilled compared to the Islanders and was just happy to make it that far. In 1994, he said the team had a superstar in Pavel Bure, but was still considered the underdog.
“This time going in the Canucks are the top team in the league by a wide margin,” he said.
The other difference is the team’s depth of skilled players, he said.
“They’ve got so much depth that these guys stepping off the bench who haven’t played in a month are still better than most teams’ two, three and four (seed) defenceman.”
What ever the outcome, restaurants and bars expect to be celebrating not just a possible Vancouver Canucks victory during the final series.
Tostenson said survey’s from other playoff series shows business for its members was up by 150 per cent for at-home games and 80 to 100 per cent for away games.
“The are full to the rafters,” he said.