British Columbia

After years of turmoil, Vancouver Canucks' hot start has fans believing

The Vancouver Canucks' inspired start to the 2023-24 NHL season has led to hopes that the team can live up to the expectations of its long-suffering supporters.

Team currently sits 2nd in Western Conference, with star players Pettersson and Hughes leading point-scorers

A group of hockey players, clad in black, celebrate while a goalie, clad in white, looks dejected.
The Vancouver Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers 6-2 on Monday night. The Canucks are off to the best start in the franchise's history through 12 games. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The Vancouver Canucks' inspired start to the 2023-24 NHL season has led to hopes that the team can live up to the expectations of its long-suffering supporters.

Less than a year removed from the firing of beloved coach Bruce Boudreau and the trade of captain Bo Horvat during a disappointing season, the Canucks now sit second in the league's Western Conference, behind only the reigning champion, Vegas Golden Knights.

Star player Elias Pettersson has scored 21 points, which is second in the entire league, with new captain Quinn Hughes leading all defencemen in points with 20. Through 12 games, the Canucks are off to their best start in franchise history.

Even though team president Jim Rutherford said in January that the team needed "major surgery" to start winning again, analysts and fans say new coach Rick Tocchet has instilled a new culture that is bringing the best out of his players.

Two hockey players bump fists on the ice.
Quinn Hughes (43) celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins with Elias Pettersson in January. Hughes and Pettersson are among the league leaders in points scored this season. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

For a fan base that has never seen a Stanley Cup win, despite being one game away twice in 53 years, there are hopes this team could take the next step if they keep up their performance levels.

"There's a real bar internally that we're seeing with this team," said Randip Janda, a host for Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi. "You can see that ... they're a resilient bunch. They're sticking true to their identity, which is a hard working team."

Janda says he's seeing the players display a level of trust, both among themselves and in the coaching staff, that he didn't see last year.

"I thought they'd be an improved team. I thought there'd be more confidence. I thought there would be more structured game," he said.

"But, you know, a franchise record in terms of starting the year — I don't think even the players thought that that was possible or that was a realistic option."

One restaurateur near Rogers Arena says he's already seeing the belief return to the Canucks fan base, and staff have started to see noticeably bigger crowds showing up earlier every game night.

"We've been seeing traction as early as three, three and a half hours," said Tyson Phillips, a regional chef at Shark Club Bar and Grill. "A lot of people from out of town really, you know, wanting to be part of that experience and getting behind their winning team."

A white man wearing a chef's uniform speaks in front of a bar.
Tyson Phillips, regional chef for Shark Club Bar and Grill, said the 2023-24 hockey season is standing out when it comes to fan energy in Vancouver. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Fans shouldn't get ahead of themselves: superfan

Tej Dhaliwal, a Canucks superfan and director of the Larshcast podcast, says the team's early success means it's exciting to be a fan of the team again.

Dhaliwal was in attendance at Rogers Arena on Monday, when the team destroyed the Edmonton Oilers 6-2, and said the atmosphere was unreal.

A hockey player pumps his fists as a crowd behind him celebrates.
Vancouver Canuck Nils Hoglander celebrates his goal against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"The building on a Monday night, to see it rocking like that, it just ... it almost brings a tear to the eye," he said. "It's something that's just been sorely missed and I can't express that enough.

"It's been a long time coming and I can't wait to see it continuing and to see what we can build upon with this team that's starting to brew."

A man in the coaches' box looks on as a line of hockey players sit down.
Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet was appointed after the team fired Bruce Boudreau. He has overseen a change in culture that has the team winning, according to analysts and fans. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Janda and Dhaliwal both cautioned, however, there is still much of the regular season to play, and the Canucks need to remain consistent to make the playoffs.

"This pace ... is probably not sustainable," Janda said. "But you don't apologize for points that you pick up early on in the season because you can bank those in reserve." 

Dhaliwal said fans have to temper their expectations, but he was cautiously optimistic following a few seasons of turmoil.

"Let's keep our fingers crossed that everything goes well and continues to go well for this team because it's been a long time coming." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Akshay Kulkarni

Journalist

Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

With files from Jon Hernandez

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