Vancouver Canucks Coach John Tortorella really does have a sense of history. On Sunday he successfully reminded everyone of the days when it was embarrassing to cheer for the Canucks.
And anyone who thought Torts couldn’t do anything tackier than try to fight another coach was proven wrong when he benched goalie Roberto Luongo — the most graceless move Canucks fans have seen since Trevor Linden was forced to pretend Mark Messier should be Captain.
The pitch for the “Heritage Classic” was that this was a chance to celebrate the team’s history, but the only history the Canucks celebrated by sitting Luongo was the day former GM Brian Burke aptly named the city “a goalie graveyard.”
No one can argue the Heritage Classic wasn’t historic for the Canucks. It was the end of the dream team and the start of “the rebuilding phase.” It seemed possible, even likely, that both Luongo and Ryan Kesler were playing their last home game in Canucks jerseys — and they weren’t even wearing Canucks jerseys. The team was dressed up as the Millionaires — the only Vancouver team that ever won a Stanley Cup.
I was at the game and some of the most memorable moments for me — and I suspect for most fans who were there — popped up when everyone at home was watching commercials. When they flashed Vancouver goalie Eddie Lack’s stats on the big screen, the fans at BC Place Luuuuuuuuuuud.
When Messier inexplicably appeared in an ad, the crowd booed en masse. Somewhere in the arena the always gracious Linden must have fought to suppress a smirk.
This was already shaping up as the oddest “heritage” match the NHL has staged and not just because it was billed as an “outdoor game” but played in an indoor arena. And the best reason the two teams had to shake hands after it was over was that most of the players had never met.
Seriously: the NHL couldn’t line the Canucks up against any of the three teams they’d played in the Stanley Cup finals or fix a date with any of their former playoff rivals? I think the only significant game that has ever taken place between the Senators and the Canucks was the one where a puck hit all-star defenseman Matthias Ohlund in the eye, blinding him. This game was almost as painful to watch for Canucks fans, and not just because their listless squad blew a 2-0 lead against the marginal Sens, and Daniel Sedin was knocked into the boards, out of the game, and maybe the season.
Fans were already reeling from rumours that Kesler — the team’s best player this season and one of the all time great Canucks — had demanded a trade. If the Canucks are even contemplating trading a player born to win a Conn Smythe trophy, it’s a clear admission that no one in management is entertaining fantasies of taking another run at the Cup until Kesler has a kid who’s old enough to draft.
To drive home that point, the greatest goalie in the team’s history — the guy who just brought home his second Olympic Gold Medal — sat on the bench for what may have been the only Canucks game he really wanted to play this year.
I don’t care if Tortorella believed Lack gave the team the best chance to win. I wouldn’t have cared if Lack had just posted six consecutive shutouts. Did Torts miss the memo about how Luongo was treated last year? Or the one about Lu holding almost every record in the Canucks history books? Or the one about hockey being all about the fans?
For the NHL brass, Tortorella trying to fight Calgary’s coach back in January was the low point of the season. For Canucks fans he found a lower bar.
We all know Tortorella was cheering for Sweden to beat Canada in the Gold Medal game — but did he have to drive home the point by sitting the goalie who had just won that Gold?
Despite all the jokes about how many free tickets the NHL handed out for the game, at least that meant the fans — not people with corporate seats or season ticket holders — but actual fans, who’d never had the chance to see the Canucks play live, were able to see a live game. There were 55,000 of them — the most people to ever see an indoor hockey game in North America.
What they didn’t get to do was cheer for the guy who brought the team within one win of the Cup, the guy who won Gold for Canada in their home town, the guy who posted a shutout in Sochi. Tacky tacky tacky.
Sorry Torts this wasn’t just another game, this wasn’t just another two points. And because the theme of the night was adding insult to injury, there was no acknowledgement during all of the pre-game Olympic hoopla of Luongo coming home with Gold. Lu wasn’t even featured in the montage featuring Canada’s Olympic heroes. Unless I blinked and missed it, neither was his fellow Olympian Dan Hamhuis or the men’s Gold Medal-winning Olympic hockey team. Tacky tacky tacky.
Luongo was a mensch last season when Cory Schneider stole his starting spot. He was gracious enough to make jokes about it. But Schneider’s play is the stuff of legend — in New Jersey, he’s just dethroned all-time goalie great Martin Brodeur. And while Lack has had a great season, he hasn’t significantly outshone Luongo.
Putting Lack in net for the privilege of getting Luuuud was cruel to both goalies. At this point I’m not sure anyone would blame Luongo if he pulled a Patrick Roy and announced he’s played his last game as a Canuck.
And the introduction of the ’94 Canucks was so graceless that it must have been organized by Torts too. After a beautiful build-up for hall of fame broadcaster and former voice of the Canucks Jim Robson, the ’94 team was herded into the arena en masse. No names were named. No bows were taken. There was no chance for an extra burst of applause at the mention of Linden or Kirk McLean or any of the other stars who electrified the city 20 years ago. I’m not sure who all the stars were — or how far they’d flown for the chance to be trotted out like the kids who play at intermission — because no one said their names or even identified them onscreen.
The legends of ‘94 were followed by members of the women’s Olympic team — who also weren’t named. Tacky tacky tacky tacky tacky. But not as tacky as treating the beloved ’94 team as an opening act.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several Canucks games in past years where they’ve done a brilliant job of celebrating the team’s history, so I’ve got to assume the NHL was so focused on keeping TV viewers happy yesterday that to stay “Classic” it skipped the class.
So, to recap: An event intended to celebrate the heritage of the Canucks managed to insult the ’94 team, diss the star of the 2011 team, and leave a talented rookie stuck between the pipes as the crowd chanted “We Want Lu.”
I hope Luongo has played his last game as a Canuck — for his sake.
Can anyone name an NHL goalie who has been treated with less respect by his team? Can anyone imagine Luongo wanting to come back one day for a game like this to be honoured by the Canucks? I’m half expecting to wake up tomorrow to read that Lack is demanding a trade too or that the Sedins have decided to call it a career and move back to Sweden.
The hashtag trending on Twitter post game was #FreeLuongo. Torts has turned Vancouver from a goalie graveyard to a goalie Guantanamo.