It's been said that time is the great equalizer, and if you wound the Vancouver Canucks' and Edmonton Oilers' clocks back 25 years, the adage appears true.
This scene will most likely not repeat itself in Edmonton for many seasons
The year was 1985, and it was a cold, snowy January day in Quesnel, British Columbia. My mother, Marilyn, was busy preparing dinner in the kitchen as I watched the Vancouver Canucks host the Edmonton Oilers. I still remember the anxiety I felt watching the game, as my favorite team started to lose, and lose badly, to an amazing Oilers club. Hope flickered late in the first period, as the Canucks scored to make it 3-1. But Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri proved too formidable for the slumping "Flying V's" (in reference to the black, orange and yellow giant V designed jerseys). The game reached the 8-2 mark early in the third period, and as much as I loved the Canucks, I could watch no more. The Oilers would finish the season 49-20-11-0 under Glen Sather, and went on to capture the Stanley Cup (pictured). Wayne Gretzky would score 73 goals, and add 135 assists en route to a 208 point season.
The Canucks will again face a backup calibre goaltender with starter Nikolai Khabibulin lost to the Oil for back surgery (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Flash forward now to present day, where the Oilers cast include names akin to Doug Halward, Michel Petit, Garth Butcher and Rick Lanz. Decent players that played with heart, but not overloaded with skill. The correlation would be that Patrik Sundstrom (Canucks leading scorer that year, 25 goals, 43 assists for 68 pts) or Ales Hemsky for the Oilers, the teams' star player, was lost to injury. Vancouver (25-46-9-0) had an eerily similar year to the one the Pat Quinn led Oilers are having now (currently 16-27-5).
The Canucks leading scorer in 1984-85
Edmonton Oilers leading scorer in 2008-09, Ales Hemsky
Back in 1985, no-one could have consoled me with the news that years later, the Canucks would again make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Only a couple of seasons removed from their improbable run to the finals with the powerhouse New York Islanders, I was devastated by their spiraling play. Still, Ms. Mok (my grade 3 teacher) would have to remind me to pay attention to Social Studies lessons instead of drawing pictures of Richard Brodeur and Tony Tanti on my notebook. But I still remember the disappointment of perpetually being canon fodder for the Edmonton Oilers.
For inasmuch as Richard Brodeur was 'King' during my youth, Roberto Luongo remains the most popular Vancouver Canucks goaltender (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Naturally, only so many comparisons can be drawn between the Oilers of yesteryear and the present day Canucks. Vancouver has many, many miles to go in order to illuminate the landscape of hockey in Western Canada the way Edmonton has. But with Henrik Sedin sitting on top of the NHL world right now, his brother and Alex Burrows riding shotgun, and an accumulating talent pool, the future has some sparkle to it. There may no longer be only 21 teams vying for the Stanley Cup, as opposed to 30, but we musn't forget that even Wayne Gretzky and Oilers needed several years to find their groove. Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky always had chemistry, but needed time for that to mature into real, tangible results. If the Canucks are to have legitimate playoff success, the Sedins must take that next step as well. Roberto Luongo will be counted on to be Grant Fuhr-esque. Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo will be depended upon to emulate Mark Messier, Mike Krushlynski and Paul Coffey. The pieces are in place, and the Canucks' system seems poised to be successful for years to come. For all of the tough years that Vancouver fans have witnessed, it seems inevitable that the shoe will finally be on the other foot.
The Canucks' drama continues to unfold at http://thecanuckway.com
Larenzo Jensen, with files from TSN and Getty Images