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I Watched This Game: Fans salute Boudreau as Canucks succumb to Avalanche

If this was Bruce Boudreau's final game coaching the Vancouver Canucks, at least the fans gave him a fitting send-off.
The Vancouver Canucks faithful serenaded Bruce Boudreau with several, "Bruce, there it is" chants during an otherwise uninspiring loss to the Colorado Avalanche. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

“See yous tomorrow…I hope.” 

That was Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau after speaking to the media post-defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. It was an oddly funny exit line, with his eyebrows raising and his eyes darting around the room as he dragged out the word “hope” with a lilting upward rise to his voice.

It was a mix of levity and melancholy, as Boudreau struck a sadsack tone that was Bruce at his most relatable. Who hasn’t been in that same place in their own lives, hoping for the best but knowing the worst was right around the corner?

It provided the comedic punch line to a sad joke of a game, as the Canucks limply succumbed to the Avalanche. It was the worst possible outcome for Canucks management, as the outcome was so little in doubt that the story of the game quickly ceased to be about the game itself.

No, this was clearly Boudreau’s night. Fans brought signs supporting Bruce in the face of the blatant disrespect that management has shown him over the past weeks — or months, considering the public criticism Jim Rutherford has aimed at his coaching. It’s the worst-kept secret in the NHL that Rick Tocchet will be replacing Boudreau as head coach, likely early next week, but Boudreau has been left hanging, the ultimate lame-duck coach.

The Canucks could have avoided all of this drama by simply firing Boudreau when management decided they needed a change. That happens all the time in the NHL and it could have easily been justified by both the results on the ice and the fact that this management group didn’t hire Boudreau in the first place.

Perhaps there was hope that Boudreau might grow sick of the disrespect and quit, foregoing the final months of his contract, but Boudreau was never going to quit. He loves the job, the players, and the game too much — he was always going to go out on his shield.

“This is what I’ve done my whole life,” said Boudreau after the game. “From the time I could walk ‘til now. Never took time off in between and, when I’m taking time off, I’m running four hockey schools in the summer. It’s everything. When everything is finally over, you’re going to miss it like crazy, so those are the things you think about.”

The fans in the building serenaded the coach with several loud chants of “Bruce, there it is!” despite the best efforts of the Canucks to prevent it. While the DJ would, in the past, strike up “Whoomp! (There it is)” to keep the chant going, at one point they tried to drown out the loudest chant of the night with “Sweet Child o’ Mine.

Boudreau heard the fans and, even though he once joked about hating that particular chant, it seemed to particularly resonate with him during this game, at one point touching his heart as his eyes welled up before he cut off the emotion with a quick cuss word to centre himself.

“You guys see everything,” he quipped when asked about the moment, then explained that he remembered seeing Alex Ovechkin make a similar gesture during a moment with the fans in the past. 

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve only been here a year, but it’ll go down in my memory books, out of the 48 years I’ve played and coached, as the most incredible thing I’ve experienced on a personal level — other than winning championships, of course. It’s very touching.”

Does he still “hate” the “Bruce, there it is” chants?

“Well, there was a reasoning,” said Boudreau. “I didn’t want to take away from how good the players were playing. It’s never about the coach. Now you just think that you’re going to miss it.”

Here’s what I think: this whole debacle has brought the tire fire that is the Canucks organization into the national conversation, with national media finally seeming to notice what local media have been pointing out for years. Meanwhile, Saturday is Hockey Day in Canada — not just Hockey Night in Canada, but an entire day of NHL coverage across Canada. Might the situation in Vancouver be a talking point tomorrow?

Hockey fans will be watching, just like I watched this game. 

  • “The city loves him,” said Elias Pettersson about Boudreau. “I mean, I know I like him. He’s been awesome for me, personally.”
  • As much as the players try to tune out the off-ice noise, it can’t help but get to them. “Kind of seems like the mindset and the mood got to us tonight,” said Tyler Myers. “You can tell the guys are down. It’s not easy times right now — a lot going on. You’ve got to find a way to stay positive and keep working.”
  • “It’s the most ‘noise’ I’ve experienced in my career,” Myers continued. “Can’t sugarcoat anything, it’s a tough situation… It’s really different than anything I’ve seen. It’s hard on a lot of people, Bruce being one of them. A lot of guys feel for the situation. You’ve just got to come in and stick together.”
  • “I haven’t experienced this ever. I would say most guys in the league haven’t,” said Myers. “There’s things that happen throughout the course of a year, there’s going to be some noise one way or another — especially in Vancouver. For the most part, that doesn’t bother a lot of guys, it’s just part of the game and that’s fine. But it’s definitely more than normal and it does get difficult at times.”
  • To add to the general vibes of this game, the Canucks’ 17-year-old scoreboard — installed when the building was still called GM Place — had a malfunction during the game, with the two circular screens above and below the main screens turning black, so fans could no longer see the score, the shot totals, and how much time was remaining. Perhaps that was a mercy.
  • It momentarily looked like the Canucks had opened the scoring a few minutes in when J.T. Miller tipped in a Tyler Myers point shot. Only, the goal was quickly waved off and it was obvious why: when it touched the puck, Miller’s stick was higher than Argyle from Stranger Things.
  • Instead, a Miller turnover led to the Avalanche’s first goal. Collin Delia put Miller in a tough spot with a weak pass along the boards, then Miller immediately made it an even tougher spot by failing to protect the puck and instead turning and putting the puck right on the stick of Alex Newhook, who gave it the old hook pass to Andrew Cogliano, who was wide open in the middle of the ice. Cogliano snapped the puck past Delia’s glove to make it 1-0.
  • The Canucks actually had some life in the first period, creating a few quality chances, while Delia kept things close by repeatedly robbing the Avalanche on Grade-A chances, pilfering their players of points. It was only 1-0 at the first intermission but there was just one problem: the Avalanche would be starting the second period on a 5-on-3 power play thanks to a last-second penalty on Luke Schenn.
  • With the Canucks’ lousy penalty killing, it was just a matter of time before the Avalanche scored and they had plenty of time with the two-man advantage. Eventually a quick passing play set up Valeri Nichushkin on the doorstep to make it 2-0, with Tyler Myers a step late to tie up his stick.
  • The Canucks then gave the Avalanche another 5-on-3, which is, generally speaking, not a sound tactic in hockey. It turns out that when the other team is allowed to have more players on the ice than you, that makes it easier for them to do certain things, like be first to a puck that ricochets off the boards and put that puck in the net, as Mikko Rantanen did to make it 3-0.
  • “It’s hard to win games if we’re always gonna chase the game,” said Pettersson. “But I know this team, we don’t quit. And we don’t quit for Bruce either.”
  • Pettersson backed up his words with the lone Canucks goal of the game and it was a pretty one. Andrei Kuzmenko and Brock Boeser worked hard to keep the puck in the offensive zone, with Boeser poking the puck free to Pettersson alone in front of the net. Pettersson deked Alexandar Georgiev right out of his pads to tuck the puck in on the backhand.
  • It was nice for Pettersson to get a goal as his parents were in town along with a bunch of his dad’s buddies. “Dad got his whole hunting team here, so I’ve got 21 people in town at the moment,” said Pettersson. “They haven’t been to Vancouver, so it’s a good time, went to dinner with all of them yesterday.”
  • There was no comeback to be had. Former Canuck Brad Hunt hammered the final nail in the coffin in the final minute of the second period, slapping a knucklepuck into the top corner.
  • That was essentially it. The Canucks had a handful of scoring chances in the third period but nothing that seemed to truly threaten to beat Georgiev, while the Avalanche were content to simply defend their lead. If this was Boudreau’s final game as head coach of the Canucks, the players didn’t give him much of a send-off.
  • “I don't know the whole story of what's going on here but I love Bruce,” said Cogliano after the game. “I think Bruce is a great man. He cares about players, he cares about his team, and he's a good coach. I have my thoughts on what's going on here with him on a personal level and I don't think it's warranted and he's done a good job throughout this league. We had a lot of success in Anaheim and I actually attribute a lot of my success in the league to him, so I owe him a lot. I love Bruce. I think he's a good person, he's a good coach and I think he'll come out on top in all this.”