The Last Game

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Los Angeles nearly 21 years ago, we were Kings hockey fans. We became hockey fans when the great Wayne Gretzky took the city by storm and turned Los Angeles into a hockey town. But with the move north, we soon started attending the games in Vancouver, B.C., just 45 miles across the border and soon traded our Kings sweaters for Canucks colors.

At the time, we had three little boys, one of whom was already playing hockey and a second who began not long after we relocate. Travelling to Vancouver for a hockey game became a special family outing. The boys quickly memorized the names of all the players and, in the case of my oldest son, even recognized the referees.

Together with two of my sons who, like me, became Canucks fans at one of the games we attended together.

Gradually, we learned the best route into downtown Vancouver where the arena is located, the places to eat before or after the game if we didn’t want stadium food, the time to leave to insure we arrived in time for the first face-off, and, most importantly, where we could park the car for without paying a hefty $20 to $30 lot fees near the arena. For a while, we took the Sky Train in and out. And after the Olympics in 2010, the adjacent neighborhoods changed bringing new restaurants, shops and traffic patterns, especially around the Olympic Village which completely revived that decaying area.

A pair of our tickets from this year’s season. Will miss our seats.

It wasn’t long before we bought season tickets located in the upper level, attacking end of the ice near the gate and up high enough so that the protective netting above the glass didn’t interfere with my camera angle. I became pretty adept at shooting the action on the ice from far away with my point-and-shoot cameras because cameras with removable lens aren’t allowed inside. One of my best shots was the one when Alex Burrows fired a game winning goal in overtime past the shoulder of the Chicago Blackhawks goalie to cinch the play-offs for the Canucks and send them to the Stanley Cup finals.

I captured the winning shot by Alex Burrows that sent the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

There are other memories as well.  Like the New Year’s Eve we took the boys for the then traditional game against Philadelphia and stayed overnight in the Vancouver Hotel. The next morning, the boys and I snuck into one of the hotel’s ballrooms where a party from the night before was still strewn with discarded party hats that we then put on our own heads and danced around. Or the year that my youngest son’s hockey team got to come out on the ice during the first period break and play a quick ten-minute game for the home crowd. After the Canucks game, they were escorted down to the locker room waiting area where they met Matt Cook, then a rookie, who signed autographs for them. My son later had Cook’s name stamped on his Canuck’s jersey. Cook was later traded but has since retired back to Vancouver.

I won’t forget the first time the Sedin twins skated onto the ice making their NHL debut. They’re now the ‘old men’ on the team but still dominating.

Of course, we won’t forget the first time that the Sedin twins from Sweden—Henrik and Daniel—first skated onto the ice to join the team. They were only 17 and celebrated their 18th birthday with a crowd of 18,000. The Sedins are now 36 and Henrik, who’s currently Captain, is the team’s all-time leading scorer.

We were there for the retirement of Markus Naslund’s number but missed the raising of Trevor Linden’s banner due to an ice storm. Our Vancouver friends got our tickets instead.

The 2016-17 season opening night line-up. In recent years, the Canucks games have become known for their production quality.

Then there are the not-so-great memories like the terrible incident with Todd Bertuzzi in 2004 who assaulted an opposing player whose injuries ended his career and Bertuzzi’s too with the Canucks. And Manny Maholtra who fans loved and who unfortunately received a serious injury to his left eye from a puck and lost significant vision. He’s now back as a Development Coach with the Canucks.

My son, Marshall, studies the game whenever he goes to see the Canucks. One reason he probably became such a good player himself.

There are memories too of the crowd cheering “LOOOOOOOOU” for goalie Roberto Luongo and the standing ovation the fans gave him upon returning from the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal win in 2010. Memorable too was the moment of silence our Canadian friends respectfully paid to the U.S. when the season opened after ‘9-11.’  The sympathy we received from our seatmates who knew we drove up for the games from the States was touching and overwhelming. And the friendship we developed over the years with Terri and son, Calum, who sometimes meet us for dinner, join us for a game or take our tickets when there’s a game we must miss.

Waving white hand towels, as my son demonstrates here, is a play-off game tradition that began with the Canucks.

We were there for the start of traditions such as twirling white hand towels above your head during play-off games. Or laughing at the antics of the ‘green men’, covered head to toe in green skin-tight body suits. Or watching the giant Orca blimp bob high around the arena dropping prizes to fans below until one night the remote-controlled balloon dive-bombed the crowd and lost its job.

Only once did we catch one of the T-shirts propelled by an air gun into the stands by Fin, the team’s Orca mascot. Once was I caught momentarily on the big screen when the camera turned on to our section. Never did we win the 50-50 cash raffle benefitting Canucks Place, the team’s charity for critically ill children. Never did Fin stick our head into its giant tooth-lined mouth as it did with other fans although I managed to snag a photo with the oversized Orca once during a period break.

During a period break, Fin managed to snag a photo with me!

The memories will continue but the season tickets will not. At least not for now. Last night was our last game as a season ticket holder. Forty games a season is just too many for us to make with our sons no longer around to The league also has changed the scheduling so that the Canucks, who must travel further than any other NHL team, are away for long stretches then back home to play games almost back-to-back. That much back and forth for us to Vancouver is more than we can fit into our already busy lives right now.

So as much as we hate giving up those great seats, we’re not taking them again next year. We’ll still go to games to cheer on our Canucks. But won’t be there as often and may not be sitting in ‘our’ seats. For us, it’s the end of a season and the end of an era. It’s been fun. Thanks Canucks!

The last game of the season marked the end of an era for my family.

 

Olympic Memories

Like many of you, I have spent the past few evenings,enjoying the Olympic Winter games in Sochi via television in the comfort of my home.  As a journalist, I covered the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles as part of TIME Magazine’s team.  It was a thrill to report everyday to my assigned events of kayaking, rowing, canoeing and water polo and write about the day’s competition and behind-the-scenes activity of the athletes for the reading public.

It’s not often that the Olympics take place in your backyard so when the Winter Games came to Vancouver, Canada four years ago, I took the opportunity to go.

Going to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was a big thrill. Guess I can cross that one off my'bucket list.'
Going to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was a big thrill. Guess I can cross that off  my ‘bucket list.’

Vancouver lies just 45 miles from Bellingham,Wa. where I now live and work. While I was no longer a ” working  journalist” I wrote about my adventures at the games for my friends and followers on my personal Facebook page. (I’m happy to share some those stories with you if you’d like). I encouraged everyone living within two hours of Vancouver to go whether or not they had a ticket to any of the events because there was so much to see and do at the Olympics.

The Olympic spirit is contagious. You can catch it just being around the venues or any of the many special events, concerts and spectators who come to cheer on their athletes. There is plenty to see, experience and photograph. In order to attend the actual competitive events, you must enter your name and choice of events into a lottery for the tickets alloted to your country. I ordered mine a year and  a half before the actual Games. Any leftover tickets are placed for purchase at ticket booths at the Games.

I was fortunate to pick up tickets through the lottery for speed skating and a preliminary game in women’s hockey.

American skater J.R. Celski in fourth place closes in on Canada's skaters Olivier Jean in first in the final laps of the men's speed skating relay race. in the 2010 Vancouver games.
American skater J.R. Celski in fourth place closes in on Canada’s skaters Olivier Jean in first in the final laps of the men’s speed skating relay race. in the 2010 Vancouver games. The men’s team took the bronze in the event.

On the day that I went to pick up my tickets, I was lucky enough to bump into another American who had two extra tickets for the women’s Gold Medal hockey game that he wanted to sell. I didn’t hesitate. What a thrill it was to sit in the arena–the same one where Vancouver’s NHL team, the Canucks, regularly play, and cheer for the American women’s team as they played against the Canadian women. The game was fast-paced and close with the Canadians taking the gold in the end. Even though the Americans had to settle for a silver medal, I couldn’t help but be excited for the Canadians who were jumping and up and down over their victory.

The entire arena erupted along with the skaters on the ice when the Canadian women's hockey team took the Gold Medal against the Americans during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
The entire arena erupted along with the skaters on the ice when the Canadian women’s hockey team took the Gold Medal against the Americans during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The entire Winter Games in Vancouver was a huge one for Canada as they took more gold medals that year than any other country and in events that they had never won. Canada also broke the record for the most golds won by a NOC at a single Winter Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee. The previous record was set by the Soviet Union in 1976  with 13 gold medals and then was matched by Norway in 2002.  Overall, the 2010 Olympics created  a huge boost of national pride in Canada. It was a privilege to be there to share in some of it.

Returning from the gold medal women's hockey game, I ran into members of the women's hockey from Finland who had just picked up their bronze medal. They were more than happy to stop for photo and to show off their hard-won prize.
Returning from the gold medal women’s hockey game, I ran into members of the women’s hockey from Finland who had just picked up their bronze medal. They were more than happy to stop for photo and to show off their hard-won prize.

I carried my camera with me wherever I went..There was so much to capture, just as I’m sure as is the case for all those now attending the Winter Games in Sochi. In Vancouver, I was able to take my professional camera with an excellent telephoto zoom lens into the events. Whether or not that’s the case in Sochi, given the elevated security concerns, I don’t know. I recorded some wonderful images of the Vancouver competitions and of the activities surrounding it all. Now, as I watch these Olympic Games I remember all that I did at the games in Vancouver. Those memories along my photos has made viewing the 2014 Games even more personal and compelling.

An enthusiastic group of Russian fans at the 2010 Olympics were ready to host the 2014 Games in Sochi.
An enthusiastic group of Russian fans at the 2010 Olympics were ready to host the 2014 Games in Sochi.

I hope that one day, you’ll experience the Olympics firsthand for yourself. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy revisiting the Vancouver Olympics through the lens of my camera. You can see more of my images from the Vancouver games on my blog’s Portfolio page: https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/portfolio/  Or simply click on the word ‘Portfolio’ at the top this page and you’ll go directly there!

The Good Ol’ Hockey Game!

Anyone who’s ever attended a hockey game, from the pros to the minor leagues, has probably heard that  folksy, raucous tune:  “The Good Ol’ Hockey Game!” usually played sometime during the third period.  (There are three periods in hockey.)  It is to hockey what “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is to baseball.  Easy to sing along with a catchy  melody and a foot-stomping rhythm, “The Good Ol’ Hockey Game” is the unofficial anthem to the sport.

The Los Angeles Kings try to slip on in during a play-off game last year against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Los Angeles Kings try to slip on in during a play-off game last year against the Vancouver Canucks.

The chorus is simple to remember:  “The good ol’ hockey game, It’s the best game you can name. And the best game you can name, is the good ol’ hockey game.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung those words myself along with the thousands of others at a  Vancouver Canucks game who stand up and clap their hands along with the music. Of course, it helps to have consumed a beer or two to get into the true mood of the thing.

Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler warms up with his teammates.
Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler warms up with his teammates.

Songwriter was National Hero

The man who penned those words and music, and in so doing became something of a Canadian folk hero, died this week at this home in Ontario.  To tell the truth, I never who wrote this rowdy tribute to Canada’s national sport, but I’d recognize his recorded voice anywhere.  A little like the U.S.’s Johnny Cash, ‘Stompin’ Tom Connors, as he was known, was a flag-waving Canadian and proud of it.  That in itself is a bit out of the ordinary for Canada, which, until the 2010 Winter Olympics at least, kept their national pride pretty well in check. But Connors told people if  they weren’t proud of their country the best thing they could do for their country was to leave it.  I’m quite sure he meant it.

TheVancouver Canucks defend their goal against a rush by the Anaheim Ducks in this seaon's opening game.
The Anaheim Ducks defend their goal against a rush by the Vancouver Canuck’s left winger Chris Higgins, #20, in this season’s opening game.

Hockey Night Tribute 

Saturday night on Canadian TV is traditionally, “Hockey Night in Canada” as games from throughout the NHL (the National in that by the way stands for Canada, not the U.S.) are broadcast starting with the East Coast evening game followed by one from the West or Mid-West.    I have no doubt that this week, at hockey games all over, in the U.S. as well as Canada, that tribute will be paid to Tom Connors and “The Good Ol’ Hockey Game.”

For more on Tom Connors, tune in to NPR’s story at:  http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2013/03/07/173746201/stompin-tom-connors-canadian-folk-hero-has-died

Hail to the Kings!

Los Angeles waited 45 years for its first Stanley Cup so when the L.A. Kings captured hockey’s top trophy the townsfolk gathered there in the arena on Monday night went crazy!

After the final championship game, which his team won, in the College Scholarship Tournament in Vancouver B.C. Marshall was the only U.S. player chosen for the invitational tournament.

The city’s love affair with the Kings began about the time that Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, stepped onto the ice in 1988.  His time with the team coincided nearly exactly to the  years my son, Marshall, spent as a young boy in Los Angeles.  In fact, Marshall’s early interest in the sport, at age 4 and nurtured by his grandmother,was what introduced my family to ice hockey.  To say that he was “interested” in hockey is an understatement.  Passionate is more accurate.  He still has years worth collecting of hockey cards to prove it, as well as a love of the game that continues today even though he no longer plays.

Marshall began playing hockey,
like a lot of Southern California kids,
on roller skates and blades.

Marshall was like a lot of kids in Los Angeles at that time who became excited about a fast-paced, hard-hitting, highly skilled sport that was taking the city by storm.  A large part of hockey’s popularity in a city where it seldom snows was due to the invention of roller blades.  Kids no longer needed ice to play, not with all the parking lots available throughout town.  Teens, like our babysitter, Andy,  for example, would leave his evening  job with us about 11 p.m. and head directly to the Target parking lot just in time for a pick up hockey game with friends.

Our son too started in roller hockey, playing in organized leagues that faced off in parking lots as well as in local rinks.  But when we made the move north to Bellingham, he switched to ice hockey so that he could play with the local minor league team, the only one in the country that plays an entire schedule against Canadian teams just across the border.  He was no Gretzky, or even Luc Robitaille who was his favorite Kings player at the time, but he became an accomplished player  ending up among the top ranking high school players in the Western U.S. and Canada.

During Marshall’s hockey playing years (our son, Tim, also played for a short time), my husband and I learned a lot about hockey and are now avid fans.  I also learned how to shoot the games while the boys were shooting pucks.  I now take my trusty point and shoot with me to most of the Canucks games and manage to capture some pretty amazing images with it, despite it’s limitations.

Canucks goalie Cory Schneider and defensemen foil a goal attempt by Kings Captain Dustin Brown during a game this season in Vancouver.

Marshall’s hung up his hockey sticks for now, trading them for drumsticks, but he continues to be a big fan of the game, as does our entire family, and joins us whenever he can for Vancouver Canucks’ games.  Even though our loyalty to the Kings isn’t as strong since our relocation, we were thrilled by the team’s win on Monday.  I even wore my old Kings sweater as I watched the televised games.  So a hearty congratulations to the Kings.  Maybe next year it will be the Canucks turn…..