Do you remember the first time that hockey fully grabbed your attention and completely stole your heart for this game that is so much more than a game? Perhaps it was a past Stanley Cup final, the Winter Olympics, World Championship, an AHL affiliate game or perhaps even a local minor hockey team that simply captured you in a way that only hockey can and once it did, there was no looking back. I can remember the first that game I really watched from start to finish completely enraptured by this game and every sound from the cheers in the stands to the skates on the ice to the final buzzer. There is one thing that prior to really embracing a my Canucks that I never understood or was prepared for, the emotional component. Yes, it’s true that there is an emotional component to being a sports fan that goes beyond grief with the refs or players on the opponents’ team.
There are the emotions that come with every win and every loss in the regular season but also those in the post season. There is the anticipation and excitement that builds as a new season inches closer around the corner. There is anguish of seeing players sidelined indefinitely with an injury and cautious excitement when that same player returns for their first game back. There is exhilaration when your team scores that big goal that leads to the next round and absolute heartbreak when you are on the other side watching your team’s season come to an end. There is the anxiety that kicks in around second overtime when you witness two teams battle for every inch of the ice in the post season. There is a veteran retiring from the game and watching him skate one last loop around the rink for the fans to say good-bye. There are the unexpected moments off the ice that unite the players once on the ice and prove that hockey is much, much, much more than JUST a game.
There is the attachment that grows with watching players develop from a prospect to becoming a veteran franchise leader. There is the sorrow that comes when those franchise players get traded, leave to play elsewhere or retire. Trades and changes are an inevitable part of the game but that never gets easier to embrace no matter how often they happen over the course of a player’s career.
Today was not a BIEKSALLENT day for this hockey fan. Today, the Vancouver Canucks and franchise player, Kevin Bieksa parted ways via a trade. There was no bitterness or anger on either side, just appreciation and respect for ten dedicated years. I understand that moves like this one have to happen and that it’s a part of the game but it NEVER gets any easier to see players that have become cornerstones leave. Players like Bieksa are not easy to replace for more than just his on-ice leadership contributions…he was a class act off the ice with the fans and many of the Canucks charities over ten years. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements OFF of the ice was his work in helping to shine a light on the importance of Mental Health Awarenss (Mindcheck) in honour of his friend, Rick Rypien.
Juice, Vancouver will never forget everything you did over ten incredible years, and thank-you, just does not seem even close to enough but it is what we have to offer…THANK-YOU. You gave this city incredible moments from the beginning to the end while fully embracing what it meant to have the heart of a Canuck on and off the ice. From getting under the skin of the opponents to interview gold to that beyond amazing stanchion goal to your work with CFKF, Canuck Place and Mindcheck…you gave this team and this city more than we deserved. It truly was an honour seeing you play for the Canucks all this time and while I may never root for Anaheim, I do wish you the best over there, KB!
More than ten years into being a hockey fan and it still never gets any easier. Nope, it never gets any easier to see franchise players leave the team that developed them from prospect to veteran. The emotional component makes it hard to be a fan sometimes but it is also what makes being a fan so great. Hockey is so much more than JUST a game. On and off the ice, there are highs and lows that go hand in hand with being a hockey fan and it’s pretty incredible to be on the sidelines to see every step of each 82-game journey no matter the outcome.
As always, until next time, nuck said.