In the tight knit hockey following in Vancouver, it’s easy to get caught up in the Canuck fever, and most locals understand what it takes to be a true Canuck. People become family, and this family put their faith in their home team, even those who did not always consider Vancouver their home.
A foreign affair takes place for these people, and not the type most would imagine…
Stephen Lee was born and raised in China, and came to Canada in 2004. Having previously followed mainly soccer, table tennis and badminton, his arrival to Vancouver presented some new social norms. Stephen notes that his interest in hockey was minimal prior to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.
“People were so into it they actually put down their work and just hid in the lunchroom to watch the game,” he recalls while working at Future Shop. “There were no customers, because when there was a hockey game on, everyone just went [elsewhere] to watch the game”. To anyone used to such a sports dominated culture, this may seem like completely normal behaviour; gathering to watch hockey with complete strangers is a common pastime here. This culture shock is testament to the lifestyle change that develops from moving to a new continent. The more people dropped everything to see the Canucks perform, the more Stephen became exposed to the atmosphere that hockey created, which he found “pretty intense and exciting”.
Even if he hadn’t fully taken in what was happening during the game, Stephen vividly remembers a semi-final, series-winning goal by the heroic Henrik Sedin, and jumping up with the crowd in a glorious uproar.
For the last round of the 2010 finals, Stephen had travelled back to China and found himself feeling restless. Concerned about how the Canucks were doing, he checked his cellphone periodically from the airport to see if there had been another victory. Once back in his hometown, Stephen was glad to find a small local television that played hockey, where he was able to watch the last two games of the series, during which the Canucks suffered a heart wrenching loss. The loss was devastating for Canuck supporters (who had literally been waiting forever for the Canucks to land a Stanley Cup), but what ensued after was un-sportsman like of these so-called “devoted fans”. The infamous riot that took place after the Stanley Cup loss struck an unexpected chord with Stephen. He remembers thinking that his “home had been attacked”. It was then that Stephen realized he had become part of the Canuck family.
Vancouver wasn’t just a destination, but his new home.
Stephen found he felt “a sense of belonging” in this new community. Not only was he a part of a city, but something much more. He belonged to the Vancouver family – something that only locals used to be familiar with – something to which people of all walks of life were welcome.
This sense of belonging is eminent in how Stephen feels about his new home, too.
For Stephen, being a Canuck’s fan allowed him to call Vancouver his home. Most fans follow because they want something to believe in, whether that is to win a Stanley Cup for the first time, or something as simple as belonging in your community. Vancouverites consider hockey a part of their home, and if new Canadians can join in on this beautiful feeling by dawning a blue white and green jersey, why would they need to reside anywhere else?
Mitzuki Kono is also a student from overseas living in Vancouver. Coming originally from Japan at the age of 16, Kono primarily watched soccer in his homeland. After an initial visit, he found that he had fallen for with Vancouver’s weather, and decided to come here permanently to study English.
Kono hadn’t been exposed to hockey prior to his Canadian P.E. classes, but once he played it for himself, his interest in the sport deepened. Mitzuki saw the passion his host family had for the Canucks, and when they took him to a game for the first time, he “just loved it”.
“It’s hard to explain,” says Kono. “The atmosphere is really good there.”
Considering himself to be “a big fan” today, Kono follows the Canuck journey and is genuinely interested in the players, and their success. To him, being a true Canuck is about more than supporting the team- it means truly “caring about [the team’s] game, and how they play”, and “getting crazy” with the other fans, and cheering on their team. As Vancouver becomes what he calls his true home, Kono finds hockey of greater importance in his life, and even plays recreational hockey himself today.
Yes, hockey may be just a sport. Yet to Stephen, Mitzuki, and countless others hockey is the gateway to belonging in a place of diversity.
Hockey is home.