Wait—is Vancouver good at sports now?

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      By James Matthews

      When the beloved American sitcom The Office was winding to a close, the show needed someone to put a bow on its near-decade run. Despite some managerial flops at the helm of the fictional company Dunder Mifflin, bumbling character Andy Bernard knocked this opportunity out of the park: “I wish there was a way to know you are in the good old days before you actually left them,” he sagely reflected. 

      Is Vancouver sports having such a moment? Are fans in the midst of the good old days? As 2023 draws to a close, I’d venture to say yes.

      The once-lowly Canucks are leading the charge. The team got off to its best start in franchise history and rocketed to the top of the NHL standings, while a trio of players were joint-top of the NHL scoring lead. The statistical exploits of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, and Quinn Hughes rival only that of the Edmonton Oilers’ dominance in the 1980s.

      Across the street at BC Place, the Lions made the Grey Cup semifinals earlier this fall after beating Calgary at home in the Western Conference Quarter Final for the second straight campaign. On that same turf, the Whitecaps hosted a playoff game for the first time since 2017—a match which featured the largest crowd in its MLS history. Earlier in the year, the Caps won a second straight Canadian Championship and also reclaimed the Cascadia Cup. 

      Up Cambie Street, the Canadians became league champions this summer. It was the team’s first in a new, higher-ranked Minor League (while that sounds oxymoronic, the Cs actually got a promotion coming out of the pandemic). 

      Even things at the collegiate level are on fire. UBC’s football team won the Hardy Cup (the sport’s conference championship); the school’s men’s soccer program took home national bronze, and its women’s program won gold—through a winning goal in extra time, no less.

      This year has shaped up to be one of the best in the city’s sporting history. And while it feels like uncharted waters, we have actually sailed these seas before.

      For the first instance of all four Vancouver teams (roll call: Canadians, Canucks, Lions, Whitecaps) reaching playoff games in the same calendar year, you have to go back to 1979.

      Another good year was 1982, when the Canucks saw a fairytale run, reaching its first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. While the Whitecaps held up their end of the bargain and reached the NASL quarters, neither the Cs nor the Lions saw postseason action.

      Then there was 1994: the Canucks made a go for it in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the Lions won the Grey Cup at home. The Canadians were even a Triple-A team back then, and managed to complete a first-place in the regular season and take the league championship series to the brink (they sadly lost in the deciding fifth game). Leave it to the local soccer squadron, though, to spoil the year: the Vancouver 86ers, as they were then called, missed out on the ‘94 APSL playoffs. 

      Now push on to 2011, when we saw a Canucks Stanley Cup Finals run in June, a Canadians championship in September, and a Lions Grey Cup win in November. Contrastingly, the Whitecaps—bless their hearts—were lovable losers at that time, too, embarking on a fun but not fruitful inaugural campaign in MLS that saw them finish dead last.

      The (mostly) good, however, comes with the bad. We know this about Vancouver sports. The mid-‘80s saw the Canucks unable to reach the heights of 1982, and the Whitecaps’ league completely folded. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, despite the positive vibes from 1994, things grew fairly dire.

      The Canucks suffered through the disastrous Mark Messier era, the Triple-A Canadians were shipped to Sacramento, the NBA expansion Grizzlies moved to Memphis after a short tenure here, and the Whitecaps-turned-86ers-then-Whitecaps-again fell down the North American soccer pyramid. At least the Lions won the 2000 Grey Cup. 

      It is, then, in our nature to be justifiably untrusting of the positive times. Still, there is a segment of Canucks fans and sports reporters who nervously wonder when this team will come back to earth and replant itself in the NHL’s dirt (myself included). The last playoff game at Rogers Arena was played in 2015, which feels like an eternity for this Canucks-crazed market—and only adds to our collective hand-wringing.

      Despite the apprehension, we should embrace these times while we have them. The most recent instance of our professional sports quartet all making it to the playoffs in the same calendar year was over a decade ago, in 2012. You have to go back nearly another decade, to 2004, to find the preceding instance. So enjoy it, Vancouver. We’re living in the good old days right now, and how long they stick around is anyone’s guess.

      James Matthews is a freelance sports writer (and full-time sports fan) in Vancouver.

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