by Clark Groome

In February 2010, Vancouver hosted a remarkably successful and thoroughly friendly Winter Olympics. On the last day, Canada beat the United States 3-2 to win the gold medal in Ice Hockey, the crowning achievement of an Olympics for a country where hockey is more a way of life than a sport.

From New Brunswick to British Columbia, Canadians celebrated their team’s victory. As the Games ended, athletes from all over the world were filled with affection for their hosts. The Olympics affirmed the widely held view that Canadians were among the two or three nicest people in the world.

Jump ahead to last week. Again Vancouver was the location. This time it was the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals in which the hometown Canucks were playing the Boston Bruins. Both teams had won all their home games so game seven was destined, our northern neighbors hoped, to bring the Cup back to Canada for the first time since Montreal won it in 1993.

Didn’t happen.

In a physical game that matched those played in Boston, the visitors won 4-0, denying Vancouver its first Cup and setting off an uncharacteristic riot outside Rogers Arena. Dozens of people were hurt, stores were looted, several people were stabbed, and Canada was embarrassed by some of its citizens who acted – dare we say it? – like Americans.

The day after the melee, Vancouver authorities discovered that the riot’s instigators were not, in fact, hockey fans. They were anarchists who came to the arena, where more than 100,000 hockey fans gathered to watch the game on outdoor screens, armed with the tools of destruction. Their motives were unclear. Their actions, however, weren’t.

Canadians across the continent have apologized to the world, denounced the miscreants and volunteered to repair the damage done to Vancouver and to Canada’s reputation.

What all of this does, more than anything, is to draw attention away from what was a terrific series. Dominated by the play of two world-class goalies, the series was a humdinger. It had everything. There were four shutouts, two for each team. There were games dominated by defense and others that were high scoring. There were 343 minutes of penalties and some hits that caused serious injury.

While all of this took place away from Philadelphia, the series has too many Philadelphia connections to be ignored.

For the third straight year, the eventual winner of the Stanley Cup eliminated the Flyers in the playoffs: the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in 2009, the Chicago Black Hawks in the finals last year and the Bruins in the second round this season.

Last year, of course, the Flyers were down three games to none against the Bruins in the second round and came back to overcome that and a three-goal deficit in game seven to move on to the next round and ultimately to the finals. This year, the Bruins swept the Flyers in the only series that the Bs didn’t take to seven games.

Mark Recchi, a huge part of the Flyers during his two stints here (1991-1995 and 1998-2004), was a major part of the Bruins offense. At 43, Recchi is the NHL’s oldest active player. He had decided to retire after this season. He goes out on top.

The future Hall of Famer has won three Cups (in 1991 with the Penguins, in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and this year with Boston) and was still a team leader on and off the ice. His career stats include 577 goals, 956 assists and 1533 points in the regular season and 61 goals, 86 assists and 147 points in the playoffs – awesome figures all. He personifies class in the league..

There is even a Chestnut Hill connection to this team: Matt Keator, former Chestnut Hill Academy headmaster Gerrit Keator’s middle son. He was a student at CHA from 1972-1979 and a hockey player at the Wissahickon Skating Club. He is now Bruins captain Zdeno Charo’s agent.

I’m sure that many local hockey fans were rooting for Vancouver. It’s hard for Philadelphians to pull for a team that beat the local heroes. I had no problem this time. Recchi and Keator, and a pre-Flyers affection for the Bruins when I went to school in Connecticut, had me pulling for them.

Now I’m pulling for Vancouver, the city not the team. It, and all of Canada, deserve better than what those thugs dished out after the series ended.


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