The rivalry that never was

The Vancouver Canucks play the St. Louis Blues tonight for the first of four regular season meetings. There is otherwise nothing special about this hockey game: It’s a mid-week game, will be a rare Wednesday night match-up that isnt broadcast nationally, and the hype going into the game has nothing to do with the opponent.


We all remember the 7-game series that the two team’s played in 1995, highlighted by Canuck captain Trevor Linden checking Jeff Norton through the glass—and punctuated by Kirk McLean’s 41-save performance in Game Seven.

The team’s would not see each other in the playoffs until 2003, when they met for another seven game series. St. Louis cruised to a 3-1 lead before the flu took over their locker room, and Vancouver rallied behind the talents of the old West Coast Express line, and Dan Cloutier, who had an un-characterisically strong three games, tallying 91 saves off of 98 Blues shots as the Canucks came back from 3-1 to win another Game Seven.

It had been the team’s first playoff series win since the 1995 series.

And yet, despite a hard-fought series, with many villains per side: Tyson Nash, Barrett Jackman, Chris Pronger for the Blues, who got very chippy over the course of the seven games across from Todd Bertuzzi, Ed Jovanovski and Trent Klatt on the Canuck. Despite a brutal series, the rivalry and the hard feelings between the two clubs never materialized the next season.

In the first game the teams played against each other in the 2003-04 season, Bertuzzi had a hard hit on Jackman behind the Blues net late in the game, which sent Pronger into conniptions and put the Canucks on the powerplay. It was on that man-advantage that the Canucks got the winning goal late from Jason King. Despite this, the two clubs still never worked up any serious enmity for one another.

In their next game, there was no retribution for Bertuzzi for injuring Jackman’s shoulder. Blue’s forward Mike Danton and Dan Cloutier “traded verbal jabs” during the pre-game warmups, but the only fight of the game came between Brad May and Reed Low. Low didn’t play in the 2003 series or in the first game of the season, and May wasn’t the Canuck who took credit for the hit. The game was a chippy affair, as Cloutier and Dallas Drake took minors mid-way through the third period for the rare goaltender interference and kneeing combination.

Doug Weight also got his stick up on Henrik Sedin.

“There was a little jawing,” Blues defenseman Chris Pronger said after that game. “I don’t think there is any love lost out there but I don’t expect anybody to be fighting in the warmup.”

In their third game of the season, Bertuzzi and Scott Mellanby fought in the first minute of the game and Canuck enforcer Wade Brookbank got into it with Reed Low midway through the second, but in the game story, those incidents were overshadowed by a four-goal Canuck third period as they came back to beat St. Louis 4-2.

Final game of the season, nothing. Nothing in the box-score stands out other than a couple of early unsportsmanlike conduct calls to Blue Eric Boguniecki and Canuck Matt Cooke. Verbal sparring, stick-incidents, those memories are now lost. Artem Chubarov and Mattias Ohlund registered a goal each and Johan Hedberg shut out the Blues. The Canucks won the season series 3-1.

What happened? The lockout? Just as the players of two teams from the first two waves of NHL expansion were getting to know everything they hated about one another, the NHLPA stood together against the devious owners during the infamous lockout of ’05. When the NHL got back together and playing, the Blues, lost a number of key players to the salary cap, stumbled out of the gate and won just 2 of their first 17 games. Then they collapsed during the stretch, winning just a single game in their final 19. The Canucks missed the playoffs that season too, as both teams dwindled from perennial playoff contenders to bordering on irrelevance.

Not even a playoff series in 2009 could renew the few dust-ups the two teams had in the 2004 season, as that ended in a sweep for the Canucks. Same team, new villains, no hatred. Tinfoil Tuque earlier made a joke about how the Blues are the Canucks Arch-Nemesis, a play-on-words based on St. Louis’ major landmark, but to me, this is a rivalry that never got going. There is no contempt, and no fanfare going into just another mid-week game. It’s the rivalry that never was.