Standing outside the Rogers Arena waiting for the doors to open, huddled with maybe twenty people under an awning to stay as dry as possible during a downpour, I wasn’t too hopeful for the hockey game ahead. The Canucks and Rangers were, in late February, for all intents and purposes outside the playoff race and already thinking of next year. Damp from the walk to the arena and impatient to get inside, I remembered something my wife is fond of saying when we’re watching a football game between two bad teams… sometimes two bad teams can play an exciting game. Little did I know what kind of fun I was in for on this night.
One of my favourite things about going to games is the first view you get of the arena after walking in. I still remember my first view of the Colisée in Quebec City when I went to my first NHL game in the early 90s. Maybe more accurately, I remember the feeling. Walking from the concourse to the seating bowl through a corridor and seeing the entirety of the arena open up to my eyes – bright and clean, with seats stretching at a violent angle to the rafters. Even if today’s arenas are all somewhat generic, there’s an element of that same feeling for each and every new one I get to visit.
Arriving early to the game has its perks. On this late February night, the Canucks were honouring one of their all-time great players, Thomas Gradin. I got to spend a few minutes chatting with him as there was no one around yet. We kind of look like we could be related.
While my seat for the game was in the upper reaches of the rink, I watched warm ups from a couple of prime locations down below. The Rangers had a lot of fans who came into the city for the game.
I had a nice chat with a young couple from New Mexico who come up to Canada to watch hockey games because of the favourable exchange rate. But this was a special trip for them… one was a Rangers fan, the other a Canucks fan. I wished them well for their relationship rivalry game.
With two bad teams playing a mid-week game, I grabbed a super cheap ticket on the secondary market. I hoped that I could manage a sneak down seat during the game, but this is hockey in Canada, so of course the rink was sold out for a meaningless game.
After a wonderful rendition of O Canada, I was ready for the opening face-off. Canucks. Rangers. A vertigo-inducing vantage point. Let’s go!
And go did they ever. I’ve been to a few games in my day, but this was hands down tied for the most entertaining NHL game I’ve been to. That first Nordiques game at the Colisée will always be special in my heart (a 6-3 win over the Oilers watching Sakic, Nolan and Forsberg), but yes, this Canucks game was right up there with it.
The Rangers scored a couple of weird early goals to grab a 3-0 lead before Vancouver rallied to get to 3-2 after one period. Even after a crazy period, it stayed as an old-school 1980s fire wagon hockey game. End to end rushes, scoring chances galore, and in the case of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, one amazing breathtaking save after another.
The Rangers held the lead throughout the game, right up until the Canucks tied it at 5-5 with 46 seconds to go. The arena went wild. I imagine the couple from New Mexico was split on the turn of events. An amazing game was getting a very good thing…. bonus free overtime hockey!
Even though the Canucks ended up firing 55 shots on goal, they couldn’t manage a real dangerous opportunity in the 3 on 3 overtime. After a neutral zone turnover, the Rangers turned the rush the other way and scored the winner to cap a ridiculously fun game to watch. The hometown fans went away disappointed by the 6-5 loss. I was happy with what $30 bought me for entertainment on the night.