Vancouver residents finally got to see the Canucks in action downtown this week - or at least one of them in action, although it was more than enough to make the crowd happy.
Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler and team newcomer Jason Garrison stopped by the basketball court at Coopers Park in Yaletown Wednesday (Dec. 5) afternoon for a spontaneous ball hockey game that was first announced by Kesler via Twitter only a few hours earlier. Close to 200 fans turned out to watch a makeshift Team Bieksa take on Team Kesler, although only Bieksa played alongside the enthusiastic fans while his two teammates instead chose to "officiate" the game in the loosest sense of the word.
"Every time we are talking hockey lately, it has been serious and [about] the CBA and all of that," Bieksa told a throng of assembled reporters on Day 81 of the NHL lockout. "We're just going back to our roots with a fun road hockey game in the pouring rain."
Spandex-clad superfans Sully and Force, better known as the Green Men, were among those who came out to play and were hand-picked by Bieksa to join his team. Apparently the Canucks alternate captain wasn't aware of just how poorly these former Rogers Arena regulars can see through their masks.
"I hope we're not making a big mistake here because it is pretty much impossible to see through these things," Sully (or possibly Force) told the Courier shortly before the game. "It would be awesome if we went out there and totally dominated, but with my luck I'll probably accidentally take out Kesler and hurt his shoulder again or something."
Instead, the game's most dominant player was, unsurprisingly, Kevin Bieksa, who scored the game's first goal and added a second shortly afterward.
"Man, he is so fast, I didn't even see it coming," said goaltender Brendan Bearkoff, who was nonetheless praised by Kesler for keeping his team in the game after his defensemen repeatedly left him out to dry.
Despite one side sporting a professional player in their ranks, the game nonetheless went to overtime after being tied 4-4. Highlights of the shootout, eventually won by Kesler's side, included a pretty goal by a dramatically slimmed down Mark Donnelly (who earlier once again led the crowd in singing the national anthem), a narrow miss by a man in a wheelchair, and another nice goal by a supposedly semi-blind Green Man after his partner in lime shamelessly distracted Bearkoff with some of the duo's signature dance moves.
While the game was all in good fun, some fans couldn't help but be reminded of what they were missing due to the ongoing
"This is pretty cool and all and good for them for coming out to do this but it also seems like a little bit of a PR move," said SFU undergrad Asif Khan. "It's not as if the [NHL team] owners have a chance to come out and do something to make the fans maybe more on their side, although I suppose if they did they would probably want to charge people."
Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs would agree on the need for real hockey. Inspired by a similar move by the city of Ottawa, Meggs has tabled a motion for council's meeting on Tuesday directing Mayor Gregor Robertson to write to both the NHL and the players' union urging them to resolve their labour dispute before the season is lost. The motion notes that the Canucks generate an estimated $100 million in annual revenue with spinoff benefits for Vancouver's economy and that the loss of the entire season would affect thousands of jobs in the city.