By HOWARD BERGER
VANCOUVER (Feb. 18) – Achievement in professional sport is all about perspective – a rather extreme correlation when considering the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks, opponents at Rogers Arena here late Saturday afternoon.
The disparity in perception influences not only those that follow the teams, but the people employed in key positions. The Maple Leafs, for example, are venturing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and finally end a team-record absence from the Stanley Cup tournament. If the club is successful in that pursuit, general manager Brian Burke will be viewed heroically by the multitudes that worship the Blue and White. Depending on ownership matters relating to the transfer of controlling interest from the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan to the unlikely Rogers/Bell Media alliance, a playoff spot could initiate talk of a contract extension for Burke, who has two years remaining on his initial arrangement with the club.
That’s how enormous it would be for Leafs to merely sneak into the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, even if it led to a first-round slaughter at the hands of the regular-season champion.
Here in Vancouver, a scenario even marginally resembling the aforementioned would seriously threaten the future of Burke’s counterpart, Mike Gillis. Whereas a statue of the Leafs GM might be commissioned in honor of an eighth-place finish, a spot anywhere among the bottom-four playoff seeds in the West would reflect poorly on Gillis, and likely inflame the dander of Canucks followers.
Such a circumstance doesn’t compute for Leaf fans – any of whom have to be nearing 20 years of age to possess first-hand recollection of May 4, 2004, when Jeremy Roenick of Philadelphia scored in overtime at the Air Canada Centre to kick-start the playoff famine.
Imagine living in a hockey town where bowing out in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final would be considered a backward step… an abject failure. That’s the onerous position the Canucks are in after losing to Boston in the seventh and deciding match of the championship round a year ago.
If Leafs ever made it to Game 6 of the Cup final, the sitting Prime Minister would have to invoke the War Measures Act in order to maintain a semblance of calm. Citizens in the GTA and surrounding ‘burbs would be arrested upon leaving their homes after 9 p.m.
GENERAL MANAGER BRIAN BURKE RISES FROM HIS SEAT IN ROGERS ARENA TOWARD THE END OF LEAFS PRACTICE ON FRIDAY.
The Canucks are under fire here for a less-than artistic display the past couple of weeks. After a 3-1 victory over Colorado at Rogers Arena on Wednesday, a column by Tony Gallagher in the Vancouver Province was entitled CANUCKS CONTENT TO PLOD ALONG. Imagine the Leafs “plodding” along Vancouver-like with an 8-0-2 record in their previous 10 games and 78 points in the standings – third-best in the NHL. By comparison, Toronto must be up to its neck in quick-sand with a measly 64 points, resting just above the Eastern playoff terminator.
At some point down the line, the bar will be positioned higher than it is right now in Leaf Land.
Burke is planning to still be in the big chair when that happens.
I began Friday with an enjoyable half-hour in studio at The Team-1040 here in Vancouver, guesting with mid-day co-hosts Matt Sekeres and Blake Price. It made me realize how much I miss gabbing on the radio. Afterward, it was on to Rogers Arena for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner in the gold medal match of the 2010 Winter Olympics, as the Leafs practised at 1 p.m. As part of my photo-review, below, I take you to the spot in the arena where Peter Maher, John Garrett, Dan Dunleavy and I broadcast all of Canada’s games two years ago.
Returning to the scene was a bit eerie, and truly special:
IN STUDIO (ABOVE) AT THE TEAM-1040 ALL-SPORTS RADIO BETWEEN 11:30 A.M. AND NOON ON FRIDAY, WITH CO-HOSTS MATT SEKERES (LEFT) AND BLAKE PRICE. I MUST HAVE DONE OKAY, AS BLAKE HAS ASKED ME TO BE HIS GUEST IN THE FIRST INTERMISSION OF THE LEAFS-CANUCKS GAME HERE ON SATURDAY.
IT DOESN’T ALWAYS RAIN IN VANCOUVER… JUST WHEN I’M HERE. PUDDLES BELOW REFLECT COLORS OF A STOP-LIGHT AT THE INTERSECTION OF ROBSON AND BEATTY STREETS.
BACK IN ROGERS ARENA (ABOVE AND BELOW) FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE FEB. 28, 2010, WHEN I COVERED THE GOLD MEDAL HOCKEY GAME AT THE VANCOUVER WINTER OLYMPICS FOR THE CANADIAN RADIO-BROADCAST CONSORTIUM.
AS PER USUAL, BURKE WAS BUSY AND POPULAR WHILE SITTING IN HIS OLD STOMPING GROUND ON FRIDAY. WITH THE NHL TRADE DEADLINE 10 DAYS AWAY, HE WAS WORKING THE PHONES RATHER FURIOUSLY. BRIAN DID, HOWEVER, FIND TIME TO CHAT WITH HOCKEY WRITER IAIN MacINTYRE OF THE VANCOUVER SUN (BELOW) AND MIKE PENNY (TWO BELOW), THE LEAFS PRO SCOUT HERE IN WESTERN CANADA.
LEAFS COACH RON WILSON CHECKED THE GOAL AT THE EAST END OF ROGERS ARENA (ABOVE-LEFT) WHILE HIS TEAM SKATED FOR NEARLY 70 MINUTES AFTER ENJOYING TIME AWAY FROM THE RINK ON THURSDAY.
THE GIRDERS AT ROGERS ARENA ARE DECORATED WITH CANUCKS BANNERS, INCLUDING THE ALMOST-BUT-NOT-QUITE PAIR FROM LAST SEASON (BELOW).
CANUCKS HAVE ADDED A NICE TOUCH WITH A RING OF HONOR NEAR THE CEILING DEPICTING SOME OF THE BEST AND MOST NOTABLE PLAYERS IN FRANCHISE HISTORY.
THE TV/RADIO BOOTH AT ROGERS ARENA – SUSPENDED ALONG THE NORTH SIDE (ABOVE) – IS NAMED AFTER THE LEGENDARY FIRST VOICE OF THE CANUCKS.
LEAF PLAYERS GATHERED AT CENTRE-ICE DURING PRACTICE ON FRIDAY (ABOVE), WHILE JAMES REIMER – LIKELY TO START IN GOAL AGAINST THE CANUCKS – WORKED ON HIS CONCENTRATION (BELOW).
THE ORCA LOGO OF THE VANCOUVER CANUCKS ADORNS THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO THE CLUB’S DRESSING ROOM (ABOVE) AND THE WALL OF THE EVENT-LEVEL CORRIDOR (BELOW).
FOUR ENTIRE SECTIONS OF SEATS ON THE NORTH SIDE OF ROGERS ARENA, ABOVE, (104, 105, 106 AND 107) WERE REMOVED FOR THE WINTER OLYMPICS TWO YEARS AGO AND REPLACED BY BROADCAST AND MEDIA TABLES, AT BOTTOM-RIGHT IN PHOTO BELOW (COURTESY DCRAINMAKER.COM).
OUR FAN RADIO NETWORK LOCATION WAS TWO ROWS BENEATH THE ENTRANCE-RAMP OF SECTION 106 AND A COUPLE SEATS IN FROM THE AISLE… SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ABOVE IMAGE. TURNING AROUND, WE SEE THE EXACT VIEW AND ANGLE (BELOW) I HAD OF THE EAST-END NET INTO WHICH SIDNEY CROSBY FIRED THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER IN OVERTIME AGAINST THE UNITED STATES ON FEB. 28, 2010.
UP THE RAMP AND BEHIND THE SEATS WAS THE MEDIA WORK-AREA FOR HOCKEY DURING THE VANCOUVER WINTER OLYMPICS (ABOVE AND BELOW), LOOKING PRETTY MUCH AS IT DID TWO YEARS AGO, SAVE FOR DOZENS OF TABLES LINING THE CORRIDOR.
MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI LIKELY DOESN’T HAVE FOND MEMORIES OF THE 2010 WINTER GAMES, AS HE GOT INTO A BIT OF HOT WATER FOR AN ALLEGED INCIDENT IN THE DOWNTOWN AREA. HE WAS BEHAVING NICELY DURING LEAFS PRACTICE HERE ON FRIDAY (ABOVE AND BELOW).
LEAF PLAYERS STOPPED ON THEIR WAY TO THE DRESSING ROOM TO SIGN AUTOGRAPHS FOR A SMALL GROUP OF ADMIRERS – ABOVE: TYLER BOZAK (LEFT) AND CLARKE MacARTHUR. BELOW: MIKE BROWN.
A DIFFICULT SEASON HAS OFTEN BEEN REFLECTED IN THE FACE OF LEAFS DEFENSEMAN MIKE KOMISAREK (ABOVE).
DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM THE GATE 9 MEDIA ENTRANCE TO ROGERS ARENA IS THE NORTH FLANK OF RENOVATED B.C. PLACE STADIUM. I CLEARLY RECALL CLIMBING THE ABOVE STEPS WITH DAN DUNLEAVY AFTER THE CROSBY OVERTIME GOAL TO BROADCAST THE CLOSING CEREMONIES WITH OUR SPORTS DIRECTOR, DOUG FARRAWAY.
THE ABOVE SIGN IS NO LONGER NECESSARY, AS THE AIR-SUPPORTED ROOF OF B.C. PLACE HAS BEEN RETRO-FITTED WITH A PERMANENT COVER. THESE SIGNS ADORN THE SUPPORT COLUMNS OUTSIDE THE STADIUM.
IT WAS TYPICALLY GREY AND DREARY IN VANCOUVER ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON, LEADING INTO A STEADY RAIN LATER IN THE DAY. THE NORTH-SHORE MOUNTAINS ABOVE CANADA PLACE (PHOTO BELOW) WERE BARELY VISIBLE.
NOT MUCH ELSE ONE CAN DO FOR DINNER – EVEN ON A FRIDAY – WHILE WRITING A STORY FOR THE NATIONAL POST AND UP-DATING THIS PHOTO-BLOG.
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