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What could have been

Two of the most dynamic offensive superstars in the National Hockey League. Two young, All-Star defencemen patrolling the blue-line. A relatively unknown starting netminder but one who has shown an ability to stand on his head from time to time. A coach who is considered one of the best hockey minds in the League. All together on a team that just a few short years ago was immersed in a period best described as the franchise's Dark Age.

<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/bc/images/images/inbydate05/dec2105/canada_t.jpg class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Sound familiar?

The 2010 Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks? Perhaps, but no.

Rather, the description is of a team much nearer and dearer to the hearts of hockey fans in British Columbia: the 2002-03 Vancouver Canucks.

A team captained by then four-time NHL All-Star Markus Naslund, who by season's end would become a two-time First Team All-Star and the recipient of the Lester B. Pearson Award.

A team that featured a dominant power forward in Todd Bertuzzi, who posted a career-best 97 points during that year's regular season and would join his best friend Naslund as a First Team All-Star at the end of the 2003 season.

A team that had two former first round picks on their back end in Mattias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski, the latter a Canadian Olympic Gold medalist.

A team whose number one goaltender, Dan Cloutier, was coming off a career-high 33 wins in the regular season and beginning to build a reputation as bona fide starting netminder.

A team led by former Jack Adams Award and Stanley Cup winner Marc Crawford, who would go on to become the franchise's all-time wins leader behind the bench.

A team that had missed the post-season for four consecutive seasons from 1996-97 to 1999-00 and saw attendance figures plummet to a franchise low in their new home of General Motors Place in 1990-00 but by 2002-03 would be playing to near sell-out crowds every night.

A team that featured arguably the most talented group ever assembled under the Vancouver Canucks banner and would surely deliver the Stanley Cup to the city of Vancouver.

A team that had the third-year Minnesota Wild on the ropes in their 2003 Western Conference Semi-Final series - leading the series three games to one at one point and later holding a 2-0 lead in Game 7 - and was ready to make flight plans to Anaheim for the Western Conference Final against the Mighty Ducks.

<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/bc/images/images/inbydate05/dec0705/nazzy_t.jpg class="imageFloatRightFramed">A championship team...

...that never came to be.

A team torn apart by a violent, on-ice incident the following year that would scar both city and sport and a team that would be only a shell of its former self when the NHL reinvented itself in time for the 2005-06 season.

A team that would eventually see three of its members going on to kiss the Stanley Cup - Brad May, Matt Cooke and Brent Sopel - but none of them together and none of them in Vancouver.

A team that, though now mostly disbanded, undoubtedly watched on Wednesday as the Stanley Cup was paraded around the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia by the Blackhawks and had just one thought flowing through their collective minds:

There, but for the bounce of a puck, goes us.

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