For our generation of Vancouver Canucks fans, nothing will ever be better than the 1994 run to the Stanley Cup Finals. 2011, for all the promise and expectation, it paled in comparison, even though I do not really understand why exactly. Nor do I care to revisit all of that any time soon. Even had the Canucks won in 2011, somehow the 1994 team would always live on as my personal favourite moment in Canucks history.
Maybe my memories have grown in legend thanks to the passage of time. Perhaps my heroes have been magnified by my youthful naiveté. Perhaps events have been mythologized more than they should be. I make no apologies for that.
With that in mind, what follows is a tribute to the 1994 Vancouver Canucks. It is a collection of memories, originally intended to be a book that never found a publisher and therefore never properly completed. I present it now, as is, as a tribute to a generation. Most importantly, it is my way of saying thank you. Thank you to Trevor Linden for setting an example that all Canucks – players and fans – strive for to this day. Thank you to Pavel Bure, the most exciting hockey player I’ve ever watched. Thank you to Kirk McLean, quite literally the Canucks’ saving grace. Thank you to Pat Quinn, the mastermind behind the Canucks greatest moment.
Thank you to, in my mind anyway, the greatest team to never win the Stanley Cup.
Remembering The 1994 Vancouver Canucks
June 11th, 1994, Pacific Coliseum – Game Six
“Last minute of play in the third period.”
Public Address announcer John Ashbridge’s call is drowned out by the boisterous sold out crowd at the Pacific Coliseum. Canucks fans are going crazy, fully intent on saluting their on-ice heroes.
Moments earlier Geoff Courtnall scored the 4-1 goal to all but officially give the Vancouver Canucks a victory over the New York Rangers in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. With the rollercoaster win the Canucks forced a decisive game seven three days later back in New York City. It is hockey’s greatest showdown on hockey’s greatest stage.
Suddenly much of the cheering turns to a chorus of boos. Other fans turn silent and stand stunned. The loudest screams in the building might be coming from Canucks captain Trevor Linden. Vancouver’s leader is doubled over in intense pain, trying to crawl back to the Vancouver bench.
Linden was blindsided by the Rangers big winger Adam Graves. That play was innocent enough, as the speeding Graves was trying to get back on-side. But everyone knows Graves made sure he got a piece of Linden in the process. That’s hockey.
The unsuspecting Linden was doubled over in pain. He had already been playing the Stanley Cup Final with cracked ribs complete with torn cartilage. Before games doctors would administer a needle into his rib cage so that the pain could be managed in the heat of battle. With each needle the Canucks crooked-nosed captain could be heard screaming in terrorizing agony.
Whether Mark Messier suspected as much or not we may never know. As the Rangers’ leader skated by the fallen Linden he fully intended to complete the job Graves started. He brutally hits the defenseless Vancouver hero from behind with a stick right into the ribs. Messier, one of hockey’s greatest warriors yet also one of its dirtiest, knew exactly what he was doing.
The television cameras do not catch it. Somehow neither does referee Bill McCreary. Not surprisingly, the National Hockey League chooses not to discipline Manhattan’s Messiah, letting the assault go completely unpunished.
Writhing in pain on the bench, Linden, very much a warrior in his own right, was determined to stand unbowed. He eventually joins his teammates on the ice to congratulate goaltender Kirk McLean.
Here are the Canucks celebrating the greatest game in franchise history. They are celebrating the chance to play for the Stanley Cup in a game 7 at Madison Square Gardens, the greatest arena in the world. Fireworks are going off as the players congratulate one another and salute the fans. Almost to a man it is the greatest game they will ever have played in.
Yet the lasting image is not one of elation. Instead it is of a weary and bloodied Linden leaning on McLean in sheer exhaustion. Victory never felt so good. It remains the most iconic photo in the history of the Vancouver Canucks.
Any concern over the health of Trevor Linden is emphatically dismissed by Canucks legendary play by play broadcaster Jim Robson.
“He will play! You know he’ll play. He’ll play on crutches! He will play and he’ll play at Madison Square Gardens on Tuesday night!”
There was never any doubt.
June 14th, 1994, Madison Square Gardens
Trevor Linden would indeed play in game seven. He did not need crutches, though he needed another painful needle to the rib cage and a specially designed flak jacket to play through the pain. A badly swelling black eye did not help matters much, either.
Linden would be named the game’s first star. He was the only Canucks player to score that night. He scored twice - once shorthanded on a determined solo rush, and once on a third period power play, undoubtedly quieting all of Manhattan. It could be easily argued that Trevor Linden’s game seven performance was the greatest game ever played by a player in a Vancouver Canucks uniform. He seemingly willed the Canucks through the biggest game in franchise history
Of course the Vancouver Canucks did not win the Stanley Cup that night. You know that. The Rangers would win, 3-2. Nathan Lafayette hit the crossbar late in the third period. I still fully believe in my heart that the Canucks were coming on in that game. Had they forced overtime the Canucks surely would have won the game. They were every bit as good as the Rangers - the best team that money could buy. The team deserved better. We all deserved better. Instead the Canucks went home devastated and empty. What an awful feeling to get so close and walk away with absolutely nothing.
Not that we would change a thing. Not even the ending. Somehow the 1994 Vancouver Canucks captured a very special place in our hearts even without winning the long coveted championship. We cling to the heartbreak, because that’s all we have.
You can find the original Joe Pelletier article at the following link