Train of Thought: What a Playoff Run Means to These Canucks Fans

By: Brayden Fengler / April 23, 2024  

This Canucks team and Canucks fans have been through a lot this season. From year to year this team went from significantly missing the playoffs to becoming one of the best teams in the NHL. It’s been a meteoric rise to contention that has brought with it mixed feelings of excitement, nerves, and anticipation.

The Canucks are entering the playoffs this year after a full 82-game season for the first time since 2015, and are positioned to make the type of impact in the postseason that they haven’t made since 2011.

A playoff appearance by Vancouver undoubtedly means a lot to the players who fought for it. But in many ways, it means just as much to the die-hard Canucks fans.

I caught up with four different Canucks fans, Alyssa, Amrit, Dan, and Nate, to chat about their experiences watching the team over the years, and to discuss what this year’s playoff appearance means to them.

Playoff Plans and Rituals

Concerning the topic of rituals when watching a Canucks game there was a mix among the four fans regarding what they do or do not impose on themselves.

Amrit keeps it simple, holding himself to no distinct traditions or rituals while watching a Canucks game. Dan admitted that when he was younger he would often wear the same shirt and sit in the same position for each game, but he has since released himself from that duty as he has gotten older.

Similar to Amrit, Nate doesn’t currently adhere to any traditions, but he has made a prior commitment that the next time the Canucks make it to the Stanley Cup Finals he will be watching it alone. Stating that the last time he watched the final it was with friends, and well, we all know what happened then.

In a similar fashion to Dan’s childhood tradition, Alyssa has a specific hoodie or jersey that she wears during games.

“If we win the game, I leave it alone. I just hang it up. If we lose, I wash it. And I have one of those Budweiser light-up cups that I use every game. So when we score, I have a drink while it’s flashing” – Alyssa

Alyssa will even take the Budweiser cup camping, and so long as she’s somewhere with an ounce of service, she will still know to take a drink for a Canucks goal.

Admittedly I have never gotten one of those cups to work properly under the best of conditions, so I’m jealous of Alyssa’s success even way out in the woods.

In general, among these fans, there is an unsurprising priority that they hold around the community aspect of watching playoff games. After committing to watching the finals alone, Nate did admit that he would be trying to get in as many group viewings as possible in the other rounds.

“It’s been a long time and I don’t want to take anything for granted anymore.” – Nate

Dan and Alyssa echoed similar sentiments. Dan mentioned that one thing he’s going to do differently this time is to try and enjoy the experience more. Previously he watched a lot of games by himself in his basement, and went on to say that this made the viewing experience less fun than he felt it could’ve been.

Alyssa plans to marry the two ideas of watching the games in a basement but also with people. As she’s planning to spend most of the playoff games watching with her family in her “Canucks cave” full of Canucks memorabilia. Other than this plan she’ll be banking on some nice weather so that she can set up the TV outside, allowing for more room to scream when they score.

Alyssa’s outside viewing set-up.

Reflection on Past Struggles

After focusing on the positives and the anticipation involved in watching the Canucks in the playoffs, I then asked the four fans to reflect on a time when following this team had made them feel anything but excited.

Alyssa and Nate highlighted more recent moments in Canucks history that made them feel pretty low about the team. For Nate, it was the season following the loss of Tanev and co. (2020-21). To him and likely many other fans, this time felt hopeless, with no direction.

Similarly, Alyssa highlighted how disappointing last season felt, in contrast to the season before, when the team experienced the brief joys of the Boudreau bump. Alyssa lamented that things seemed to be moving in the right direction towards the end of the year that Boudreau took over, but then it all fell apart so quickly the next year.

Amrit and Dan went back a little further, with Amrit touching on the entirety of the Benning era causing him to feel the lowest. He did acknowledge that this era brought us players like Boeser, Pettersson, Demko, and Hughes, but overall it was a disappointing slog.

Dan then touched on the elephant in the room when it comes to disappointing Canucks memories, which of course is the 2011 playoffs.

“In 2011 that team just felt like it was destined to win the cup. they were first in every category, they got past Chicago and it felt like ‘Okay this is going to happen’. Then not only did it not happen, but the whole finals were hard to watch.” – Dan

Trying to pull everyone out of the gloomy headspace that I had forced them to enter, I then prompted everyone for their overall thoughts on how this 2024 playoff appearance makes them feel.

Amrit has faith in Tocchet’s ability to drive this team hard to make a real impact in the playoffs. He feels that a positive similarity exists between former Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault’s coaching style and that of Tocchet’s.

Overall there just seemed to be a general feeling of excitement and anticipation for the unknown among the fans. Alyssa feels positive about the Canucks chances but very pragmatically touched on how anything can truly happen in the playoffs. She highlighted Florida being the second wild card team in the east last year, yet being able to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.

Nate’s stance was that despite this team’s strong performance and placement during the regular season he feels that there is not a level of expectation for the rest of the league that Vancouver will perform well in the playoffs. Nate thinks this is a good thing for the team.

The last meaningful run we had was 2012. the second year of back-to-back presidents trophies, we went in as favorites. This time around we are without a doubt underdogs. I don’t think the league has taken this team seriously. I don’t mind, it keeps the team humble and hungry. – Nate

The Personal Element of Being a Canucks Fan

More generally, I then asked the four fans to reflect on what this year means to them personally, without thinking too hard about the gold at the end of the rainbow.

Nate mentioned something that I think a lot of fans can relate to, and that’s the fact that he’s just been happy to be finally watching meaningful games again. Reflecting on how fun and “meaningful” this season has been overall it seems crazy to think that for so many years, fans were tuning into games that so early in the season felt like they didn’t matter.

In a similar fashion as Nate, Dan emphasized the aspect of “joy” that has been missing from following the Canucks over recent years. For him, he felt as though it had returned during this season. A similar sentiment came from Alyssa, as this season made her proud to be a Canucks fan again.

“I never stopped believing in them or cheering for them. I learned at a very young age with my uncle, he’s a Rangers fan, and he said, It doesn’t matter what your team goes through, you’re a fan for life through thick and thin. But it’s just been nice to finally win games and be excited to watch games.” – Alyssa

On the flip side of this, Amrit kept his cards close to his chest, stating that he doesn’t feel that he can really say yet what this season means to him until after the playoffs are over.

Not specifically related to what this team has been able to do on the ice, I asked everyone to share a fond memory of an experience or feeling that they’ve had following this team.

Dan reminisced about when he started watching the Canucks in 88′ when they were still largely irrelevant. It wasn’t until Pavel Bure came along and Dan got to see Bure play in person that things first felt special about being a Vancouver hockey fan.

For Dan what was great about that time was the specific experience of witnessing Bure in action, combined with the general feeling that came from the team finally having a player who could be talked about as one of the greats in the league.

From long-time fans to newer ones, Alyssa recounted a fond memory she shared with her family when they attended a Canucks game this year. Alyssa’s daughter is nine and was very excited to make a sign for her favourite player Brock Boeser ahead of this game. Alyssa said that seeing the excitement on her face when the guys came onto the ice for warm-ups, combined with the fact that Boeser himself actually tossed her daughter a puck was a really special experience.

Alyssa’s daughter with her Boeser sign and puck.

Amrit’s fondest memory as a fan, simply put, was when the team made it to the finals the last time around, and he would no doubt enjoy recapturing that feeling again this year. For Nate what he enjoys the most about being a Canucks fan, is the energy that comes out of the City when the team is at its best.

“Just experiencing the vibes this team gives any restaurant or venue when they’re on a roll. The city is friendly, everyone knows you can talk Canucks. It really is a good time.” – Nate

Nate and his now wife during the 2013-14 season at their first Canucks game together.
Nate and his son at the beginning of this season.

Bonding Through the Team

By this point, almost everyone had already touched on the joy that comes from sharing Canucks fandom with close friends and family. I was curious though how these relationships have changed for people this year if at all, since the team has actually been good.

Touching on something that seemed to be the case for most people, Amrit mentioned how he has friends and family that somewhat share the same passions that he has for the team, but he is still the biggest Canucks fan within his own close circle. This is point that was echoed by others and I think anyone reading this far into this article can probably relate too.

This is likely why so many of us are on Twitter/ X because it’s hard to find people who match our level of interest in the team, especially when they aren’t having a season like this one. Dan touched on this in his next point as he went over the fact that his passion for the Canucks is a lot greater than those around him in real life. Dan then credited the beauty of the online experience that can connect like-minded fans.

Overall Nate noticed this year that he just tended to talk hockey so much more with people since the team was good. Trade discussions, rumours game breakdowns, it was a lot more fun for him to have those conversations this year.

In a similar fashion to the others, Alyssa acknowledges that she has a few family members and friends who are fans, again citing her Ranger fan Uncle who’s she’s had more Canucks conversations with this year than over recent years.

But Alyssa acknowledged that most people she knows don’t get crazy like she does for the Canucks. Alyssa does though watch every game with her husband, a tradition that spans back to their first date.

“I remember our first date back in the day there was a Canucks game on, and I was supposed to be on a date with him, but I was very distracted by watching the Canucks play instead… After that first game, we always looked to watch the games together, and yeah, it’s just been 17 years of watching Canucks together, win or lose.” – Alyssa

Alyssa with her husband and daughter dressed in Canucks gear.

The Big “If”

Towards the end of our conversations, I then asked the almighty question, if everything goes according to plan, and the Canucks win it all this year, how do you plan to celebrate? The answers were a joyous glimpse into a possible future.

Nate has already told his wife to clear his schedule the night of a potential Stanley Cup win, with nothing but partying on his mind. In a similar fashion Alyssa’s husband knows to have plenty of tissue boxes on standby as by her own account she is a very emotional person. But what better time could there be to release all of those emotions than after the ultimate win?

Dan, who lives out in the Okanagan would love to try and take some time off to visit the City, soak up the atmosphere, and connect with people in person who he’s shared so much of this journey with online.

Amrit put it simply in a manner that I think all Canucks fans can relate to regardless of their specific plans to celebrate a Cup win.

“If the Canucks win the Stanley Cup I’ll be really happy I don’t know what else to say, might dedicate a full day of happiness towards it if that makes sense.” – Amrit

The Times Keep Changing

Lastly, in an effort to truly capture a snapshot of how much time has passed since the last season that this team was good, I asked everyone to explain in as little or as much detail as they wanted, how long they’ve been following the Canucks and how much their lives have changed in that time.

Amrit’s been following this team closely since the 2000’s just prior to the West Coast Express Line. 2011 really hurt him but he’s remained an optimistic person at heart and feels that the next time this team makes the finals they’re going to bring it home.

Nate always tries to keep himself distanced from the super-low lows of professional sports. The season after 2011 he admits it was tough to keep watching the Canucks because you just knew it was such a long shot to happen again. However, that experience granted him an appreciation that he still holds for what athletes go through day-to-day for the sake of winning.

Alyssa shared a snapshot of how much her life has changed since the last time the Canucks were in the Cup Finals. She highlighted how she and her husband were only recently married then, whereas now they have a nine-year-old daughter whom they will get to enjoy this playoff run with.

Dan shared that he is no longer married now, but back in 2011, he was married. Also like Alyssa, back in 2011, he had yet to become a parent, but he is one now.

“That’s another thing about the fandom experience when you look back at the team’s experience you can’t help but relate it to where you were, it’s almost like a recording of time. With the Canucks being in the playoffs for the first time for real since 2015 I can honestly say this is the happiest that I have been in my adult life. It’s fitting that with all the big changes that I have gone through in the last year, moving to the Okanagan, starting a new job, new connections, new relationships, everything seeming to go well. To have the Canucks have this kind of season felt appropriate.” – Dan

Dan at a Canucks game in 2002.
A more contemporary photo of Dan.

I’m appreciative of Amrit, Alyssa, Dan, and Nate for taking the time to share their thoughts and memories about the Vancouver Canucks. For these four and so many more Canucks fans like them, I hope they enjoy the ride and get their chance to party by the end of it.

As was said in so many ways throughout this piece, this is a special time of year as a Canucks fan, that just doesn’t happen as much as we’d all like it to. As much as you can, you just have to enjoy the ride.