VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks have been in the National Hockey League for 50 years, but I’ve covered only the last 29 of them.
You have to understand, I started in, like, Grade 4.
It has been only two weeks since their golden anniversary season was halted, but I already miss 50 things about covering hockey. Minimum.
Seriously, the Canucks’ last game was just 16 days ago?
I miss driving to games in spring when the sun is still out in the evening, and even the blossoming cherry trees on the West Coast are excited that the best hockey may still be ahead.
I miss the Rogers Arena press box, which is out over the ice, and has one of the best views in the league — even if the deck is cramped and there is no room for anyone’s computer bag or knees — and The Athletic’s Thomas Drance and the Province newspaper’s Patrick Johnston arguing across me whether Endor is a moon or planet in the Star Wars saga.
I miss watching the warmup from ice level, where the game looks entirely different than from up high, and there is no space and many large men travelling at high speed, and they still don’t run into each other.
I miss the buzz in the crowd and across the city before a big game, and that anticipation when the lights go down and the music comes up just before the players re-enter the playing surface for the opening faceoff.
I miss how they skate with the exuberance of children as soon as their skates touch the ice in the semi-darkness right before the anthems, as if they’re going to be caught trespassing in this wonderland and should get in as many laps as possible before a grownup sees them.
I miss anthem singer Mark Donnelly, who has great pipes but always gives the crowd a turn in O Canada, and how people never fail to seize it and sing their hearts out, and how this always moves me a little as a Canadian.
And how in that moment, I often close my eyes and quiet myself, and am grateful that after many years I’m still paid to watch hockey and write about it for readers who care as much as I do.
I miss the crowd singing Sweet Caroline in the third period, even if I hate that song, and how Neil Diamond-imposter Nearly Neil never ever mails it in.
Of course, I miss Elias Pettersson’s creativity and one-timers on the ice, and Bo Horvat rushing the puck and Quinn Hughes skating like it’s the men’s short program at the Olympics, carving tight circles and pivoting 180 degrees with the puck to avoid a heavy check from a player who was sure he had the Canuck lined up.
And I miss hearing anyone call “Huggy!” when they want the puck from Hughes.
I miss all nicknames because sports is about the last place that values them.
I miss the beauty of a saucer pass and how players going nearly 40 kilometres-per-hour can take a pass in their skates without breaking stride.
But I also miss the small tradecraft, the way J.T. Miller protects the puck, and how defenceman Chris Tanev always has an eye and an angle on the shooter waiting for a backside one-timer, how Tanner Pearson gets the puck out along the boards nine times out of 10, how Jay Beagle works the faceoff dot.
I miss that someone like Zack MacEwen, an undrafted free-agent out of the Quebec League, can come up from the minors during the playoff race and score two goals in a win and become the biggest story in town. And how Tyler Toffoli can leave his old team after seven years and instantly fit in with guys on his new one.
I miss skipping the media buffet (which is not free) before the game and walking down to Level 100 to buy the outstanding prime-rib sandwich (also not free) or lobster roll.
I also miss the coffee (free) and the warm-out-of-the-printer game notes at the morning skate.
And I miss how Canucks radio play-by-play man Brendan Batchelor always has the lines tweeted out, so none of us really has to pay attention to the skate and can instead argue about the merits of Tyler Motte or how much Jacob Markstrom is worth on his next contract. Or Endor.
I miss the “snack” served in the press box in the second intermission, and how when the snack was chicken tenders the dining area turned into the start of the Hunger Games.
I miss the second-intermission “meal” in Chicago, served about two hours after the main pre-game meal, and how former Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman was the one who told me NHL stands for Never Hungry League.
For that matter, I also miss the hot dogs in Montreal, the caramel corn in Los Angeles, the ice tea in Pittsburgh and the few bottles of beer accidentally left in a bucket of ice in the press box in Dallas – after every game.
I miss the mints the San Jose Sharks hand out in the press box just before the end of the third period, and always wonder why they can’t give them to the players, too.
And while we’re still talking about food, I miss the Gramercy Tavern in New York, Neptune Oyster in Boston, the St. Paul Grill in Minnesota, and the taco truck in the parking lot a block from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where at midnight on a weekday I had the best quesadilla of my life.
I miss Denver.
I miss road trips – as long as they’re not longer than a week and the itinerary isn’t Detroit-Columbus-Buffalo. In February. (Do those cities have internet?).
I miss going on TV with Dan Murphy, who is one of the most talented and funny people I have met, but don’t tell him because his head is already big enough and absurdly coiffed for a man his age. I’m jealous.
Actually, I miss finishing an intermission panel with Murph when we’ve had a good show, I stared at the wrong camera only twice, kept my eyes from darting nervously like I’d just broken parole, and my earpiece worked so that I didn’t have to turn to Daniel on live television and tell him I can’t hear a word he’s saying.
I also miss doing the final half-hour on post-game radio with Satiar Shah and friends, when I show up loopy and irreverent after filing my story on deadline to Sportsnet.ca.
For radio, I miss jumping up into the high chair in the Jim Robson Gondola, like I’m a kid climbing up for a haircut, and can never remember whether it’s Brendan Batchelor’s chair or analyst Corey Hirsch’s — and how small are they anyway that they need the chair that high?
I miss dinner on the road with Batchelor and Hirsch.
I miss giving Shah the gears whenever I arrive for my segment after a win and he’s talking about trading someone.
I miss the third-period rush of a close game, even if I’m not seeing most of it while writing because I know there’s no way I can create an 850-word column from scratch between 1010 pm and 1050 pm. And then I get back after a fly-by through dressing room, look at the irrelevant crap I wrote during the third period, and write an 850-word column from scratch.
I miss turning to Drance and Johnston during the third period and asking them what I missed, and knowing they’ll tell me. Reporters.
I miss games in other time zones when I have more time to write.
I miss my Mac laptop.
Dressing rooms post-game are way different than dressing rooms after practice. But I miss having the chance to have actual conversations with players, Brock Boeser updating me on his Dad, and Troy Stecher telling me about growing up in Richmond (where I’m from), and Pettersson explaining something about his shot, and Beagle, Tyler Myers and Brandon Sutter talking about whatever they want because they’ve seen things.
I miss rare, gratifying moments like when Markstrom, not long after his Dad died, thanked me for a column I wrote because it meant a lot to his Mom.
I even miss when players confront me about something they didn’t like that I wrote or said — like Myers did recently — because it means they care. And it’s way healthier than simmering on that anger until it poisons you. Relationships.
I miss stealing a gum from the dressing-room drawer even if it’s not really stealing since I always ask/tell a Canucks employee and, after the morning coffee, it’s for everyone’s good.
I miss the smell of the rink, the sound the puck makes rattling around the boards, the elegant, flowing trails cut by skates into fresh ice, the hellacious clack of a puck off the glass, and the base-drum thud of it against a goalie’s pad.
Even though it’s obvious which one is more important, I miss when 7 pm meant cheering hockey players instead of heath-care workers.
I miss when only goalies wore masks, when everyone could come together with health and hope to watch a simple hockey game, and no one was in danger of dying.
There is nothing else in this world like all of that.