OK, I’ve had a few beers, eh? So go easy. But stick an expat Canadian in a hockey game – a Canadian who’s been marooned on the frigid shores of northern Germany for going on two decades - and 45 years of puck-whacking start to flood back.
Times we’d set out rocks for goalposts 15 yards apart on a road, play street hockey and pretend we were Jean Belliveau, Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe… Can you tell I was a Montreal fan before the Vancouver Canucks finally made it to the NHL?
This is the game I will always remember - only a part of it, but it’s enough.
A nothing game, the playoffs already decided, the Canucks eliminated weeks before in a badly losing season, their second in the NHL 1971-72 when they finished dead last in the league.
Dad’s office at the copper mine had season’s tickets. Section 10, Row 15, Seats 9 and 10 in what they used to call the Pacific Mausoleum, a crowd so quiet you could hear The Queen fart. The seats were divvied up among the office employees and Dad got four games a year. Our seats were right behind the goalie, and in those days you had to keep awake or get a puck in the chops. Screw the lawsuits, life was too simple back then.
So it’s late in the third period, game tied 2-2 in a tight contest against the Buffalo Sabres. For those old enough to remember, the Buffalo Sabres were the Canucks’ main rival because Buffalo and Vancouver ascended to the NHL together the season before. This is why it was so important, even though both teams had already been eliminated from playoff contention.
The game was tied 1-1 until six minutes left in the third period when Buffalo scores, sending many to the exits as it was obviously going to be just another loss. Then the Canucks tied it up with about 2 minutes left and those on the way out are rushing back to their seats. It’s fierce action and it goes down to the final 14 seconds with a stoppage in play. There’s a face-off near the Sabres’ goal way down across the ice at the far end.
Much like the face-off we saw tonight:
That was taken two hours ago when Canada’s national team defeated Germany’s 4-1 in Hamburg! It was a lot of fun…. More on that game later.
Back to the game 38 years ago.
This is the scene that is burned in my mind forever:
They say that every time your mind replays a memory the subsequent memory is changed a tiny fraction, so that what you saw in real life is altered each time you recall it. Sooner or later, what you retain as a memory has been changed beyond all resemblance to reality.
That may be true for some things, but this is exactly what happened. It will never change. It’s in the books. It really happened.
Guevremont, a defenceman known for his incredibly hard shot from the point, takes aim as the puck approaches. The crowd of 15,000 holds its breath as he pulls his stick back and, without even stopping the puck, sends it flying up through a half-dozen bodies, sticks and legs to the far corner, over the shoulder of the Sabres’ goalie Roger Crozier and into the back of the net. I’ll never forget the sight of the net rippling from so far away across the arena.
There were 11 seconds left on the clock and the Pacific Mausoleum erupted in pandemonium as the red light went on.
I’m 11 years old, and all around me people are jumping on top of their seats, they’re screaming, they’re going crazy, they’re throwing drinks and junk onto the ice, they keep screaming, you think it’s going to stop and they keep on, it seems to last forever, like an encore call that won’t quit until the band finally gets back on stage, until one guy takes a thermos – it was probably filled with whiskey until half-way through the second period – and he hand-grenades it from the second tier. I can see it now, sailing through the air right in front of me, end over end, a slow loop-de-loop arc, and when it hits the ice, the interior shatters in a spray of glass all over our end of the ice.
The crowd goes whoa!
It takes them 10 minutes to sweep the ice clean so they can finally play out the last 11 seconds.
All this before the eyes of an 11-year-old from the sticks. It was the first time I was in a crowd that went absolutely crazy. I loved it.
It was tribal, I guess. I miss that.
That’s why tonight’s game was so much fun. The chance to get together with some Canadians to see some of Canada’s best players playing the game we love best.
Thanks for jogging my memory, guys.