Canucks all the craze

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:48 PM ET


 VANCOUVER -- The streets are littered with Canucks jerseys, countless cars are adorned with team flags and storefronts of all types are stocked with team paraphernalia.

 One joker is even selling Free Bert T-shirts.

 Front-page headlines, cafe chatter and call-in shows have all been dominated by talk of the Calgary/Vancouver series that opened last night at GM Place.

 Just because Calgary is in a frenzy over its club finally making the playoffs doesn't mean it has a monopoly on fan spirit.

 It's evident Vancouver hockey fans are almost as hyped about this year's Stanley Cup tourney as Flames fans are, even if this is the team's fourth straight post-season appearance.

 Despite two consecutive years of playoff heartbreak and the recent loss of Todd Bertuzzi to suspension, Canucks fans have renewed faith thanks to the six-game winning streak the club ended the regular season on.

 "Winning the division (for the first time in 11 years), there's just that much more excitement than the past," said Matt Cooke, who has replaced Todd Bertuzzi on the Canucks' top line.

 "It's energizing and we've found a way to channel that energy."

 Cooke and his teammates found it particularly uplifting to hit the ice in front of more than 18,000 rabid fans last night who welcomed their team by waving white towels frantically -- a tradition started in 1982 when lovable Canucks coach Roger Neilson waved a towel of surrender in protest of the officiating.

 "Seeing those white towels really gets you pumped up no matter how many times you see it," said Canucks defenceman Brent Sopel of "Towel Power."

 "Every Canadian city is going to be the same -- hockey is everything here. It's a lot of fun here hearing the buzz and people talking to you about it."

 A stroll down Robson St. two hours before game time resembled that of a pep rally as thousands of fans paraded towards GM Place chanting and waving team flags.

 Having sold out 82 consecutive regular-season home games, tickets are hard to come by for the locals, never mind travelling Flames fans looking for ducats. Vancouver ticket agent Kingsley Bailey, who left Calgary for Vancouver when the NBA hit the west coast, said tickets were going from anywhere between $75 to $350 apiece.

 "There's huge buzz in this city but tickets are nowhere near as high as they are out in Calgary -- they're crazy out there, " laughed Bailey of Vancouver Ticket and Tour Services.

 Aside from a shapely crew of Cowboys servers wearing Flames gear and cowboy hats, very few Flames jerseys were spotted at last night's game.

 "There seems to be supporters in both rinks, which is natural and makes it fun," said Canucks veteran Trevor Linden.

 "There's a special feeling around here -- you can feel the buzz across the city and the country. Baseball is starting, the Masters is on and the NHL playoffs are finally here. Having two Canadian teams really adds to the excitement."

 Proof of that came last night when anthem singer Mark Donnelly turned the mic to the crowd, which proudly belted out half of O Canada.

 Newspapers here are offering up Canucks trading stickers and running full-page posters of their local heroes daily. You can't change the channel on TV without seeing some sort of Canucks report.

 "We've seen enough excitement in Calgary -- I don't need to see it here," laughed Rhett Warrener when asked if he'd seen signs of Vancouver's playoff spirit.

 "For these guys (the playoffs) is old news. They've been spoiled."


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