Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Vancouver/San Jose Road Trip

One of my favourite sports roadtrips was driving from Vancouver to San Jose in 1994 to see the Sharks' first ever home playoff games, which they split with top seed Detroit. It was a blast; the fans were still new to the game and excited to see their team succeeding in just their third season, long before the Sharks became the poster boys for playoff failure. When San Jose went on to upset the Red Wings in 7 games, it helped the Canucks reach the final.

Now these two west coast rivals meet in the playoffs for the first time, and although I wish I could be there, I'm stuck across the ocean. So I can only plan a roadtrip that takes you to all 7 games as well as plenty of other action in between.
Sun May 15 San Jose at Vancouver 5:00
Mon May 16 Pacific Tigers at Washington Huskies 2:00 (NCAA Baseball)
Tue May 17 Lewis-Clark State Warriors at Seattle Redhawks 3:00 (NCAA Baseball)
Wed May 18 San Jose at Vancouver 6:00
Thu May 19 Oklahoma City Redhawks at Sacramento River Cats 7:05 (PCL)
Fri May 20 Vancouver at San Jose 6:00
Sat May 21 New England Revolution at San Jose Earthquakes 7:30 (MLS)
Sun May 22 Vancouver at San Jose 12:00
Mon May 23 San Jose Giants at Stockton Ports 11:05 (Cal League)
Tue May 24 Nashville Sounds at Tacoma Rainiers 11:35 (PCL)
Tue May 24 San Jose at Vancouver 6:00
Wed May 25 FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders 7:00 (MLS)
Thu May 26 Vancouver at San Jose 6:00
Fri May 27 Stanford Cardinal at Cal Bears 2:30 (NCAA Baseball)
Sat May 28 San Jose at Vancouver 5:00 (or, if series is over)
Sat May 28 New York Red Bulls at Vancouver Whitecaps 4:00
One good thing about this roadtrip is the early start times, which give you more time to drive in the evening, or perhaps find some local establishments in which to relax. I am sure a number of Canucks fans will be doing the hockey portion of this trip, so I hope that some of them see this and check out a couple of more games on the way.

Times Have Changed

Looking back on that 1994 playoff season, it is amazing how much things have changed since then. At that time, I had lived in Vancouver for 4 years and had seen dozens of Canucks' games at the old Pacific Coliseum. Tickets were cheap and easy to get in those days, particularly before Pavel Bure arrived. When San Jose knocked off Detroit and Vancouver completed a 3-1 comeback over Calgary, I realized that the Canucks had a good shot of making the final, since they matched up well with Dallas and Toronto, the other remaining squads (yep, Toronto used to be in the West).

That year, the Canucks put all remaining rounds on sale on the same day, so I headed down to TicketMaster (no Internet at home, remember?) and bought a pair of tickets to each of the 3 finals games, in the top row for $50 each. I recall the gentleman behind me laughing at my optimism, but it turned out to be the one year I actually predicted something correctly. Vancouver beat Dallas easily, and then knocked out Toronto in a double OT Game 5 that I also attended. It was a bittersweet moment, for although I was still hoping for the Leafs to win, I knew that if they lost I would get some Stanley Cup finals action for the first time in my life (no need to point out that the Leafs have not made the finals in 44 years).

That championship series was unbelievable, especially game 6 when Vancouver won 4-1 to send everyone back to New York. I'll never forget Nathan Lafayette hitting the crossbar in game 7, all the bandwagon fans, and the riot afterwards marked by the smell of tear gas as I walked home.

Unfortunately, I lost a lot of respect for Vancouver hockey fans that year, mainly because there were so few fans that believed in their team at the beginning of the playoffs. As an example, the sports bar where I watched the games showed Toronto/Chicago tilts over Vancouver/Calgary in round 1, since there were no Canucks' fans in the house. By the time the finals rolled around though, all the fake fans had come out of the woodwork and I finally saw what a bandwagon town was like.

Things are obviously different now. Vancouver has had a top team for several seasons and the fans are truly passionate, as I saw at a road playoff game in LA last year. I still cheer for the Canucks, but from the position of a faraway observer rather than a true fan. For me though, there will be nothing like that 1994 playoff run, and I can only hope to be living in Toronto when the Leafs finally do the same.



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