Van­cou­ver Canucks look­ing to build ri­valry with Seat­tle

The Sault Star - - SPORTS - GEMMA KARSTENS-SMITH

VAN­COU­VER — Seat­tle’s new NHL team may seem like a nat­u­ral foe for the Van­cou­ver Canucks, but some in the hockey world say build­ing a ri­valry be­tween the re­gional neigh­bours will take time.

Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini wel­comed Tues­day’s news that the NHL board of gover­nors unan­i­mously ap­proved a yet-tobe-named fran­chise in Seat­tle, set to start play in the 2021-22 sea­son.

“Great to wel­come Seat­tle to the NHL!” he tweeted. “I’ve got a feel­ing this will be­come a clas­sic ri­valry.”

But while the Emer­ald City is lo­cated just over 200 km south of Van­cou­ver, Canucks head coach Travis Green said ri­val­ries aren’t solely based on where teams are lo­cated.

“They come from hard play­off se­ries, go­ing through bat­tles and be­ing bat­tle tested against each other,” he said.

Van­cou­ver de­fence­man Troy Stecher — who’s from the Van­cou­ver sub­urb of Rich­mond, B.C. — also be­lieves cre­at­ing a grudge be­tween teams re­quires some his­tory.

“I def­i­nitely think it could be­come some­thing, but it’s go­ing to take time,” he said, not­ing that a there’s al­ready an in­tense com­pe­ti­tion in Ma­jor League Soc­cer be­tween the Van­cou­ver White­caps and their re­gional ad­ver­saries, the Seat­tle Sounders.

“You can’t just say it’s a ri­valry. You’ve got to go through games, you’ve got to build that per­son­al­ity, you’ve got to have bat­tles with guys on their teams. And I think that’s what cre­ates it.”

Giv­ing both Van­cou­ver and Seat­tle fans an op­por­tu­nity to drive to games in another mar­ket will be huge, Stecher said.

“I played at a col­lege that had re­ally good fans that would travel a ways,” said the Uni­ver­sity of North Dakota alum. “So maybe this is a good step for the Canucks.”

Cre­at­ing a new ri­valry could be a boon for the Canucks busi­ness side, said Peter Tin­gling, a pro­fes­sor with Si­mon Fraser Uni­ver­sity’s Beedie School of Busi­ness in Burn­aby, B.C.

“You want en­gaged fans and it will cer­tainly be good from that per­spec­tive,” he said, not­ing that it’s been a long time since Van­cou­ver’s Rogers Arena was reg­u­larly sold­out for hockey games.

Hav­ing a new team in the Pa­cific Divi­sion could also put pres­sure on the Canucks to per­form both on and off the ice, Tin­gling added.

The NHL’s last ex­pan­sion team, the Ve­gas Golden Knights, upped the ante for com­pe­ti­tion and en­ter­tain­ment, mak­ing the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal in their first year in the league, and quickly gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for over-the-top in-game ex­pe­ri­ences and fan en­gage­ment.

“There’s noth­ing like foot­prints be­hind you to make you up your game,” Tin­gling said. “It’s not just win­ning in the arena, although that’s al­ways a good thing. If you start to see some in­no­va­tion in how they en­gage with fans, for ex­am­ple, that’s go­ing to put pres­sure on Van­cou­ver.”

The Canucks are cur­rently in re­build mode af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond last in the Pa­cific Divi­sion last year. The club had a hot start to the sea­son, thanks in part to rookie sen­sa­tion Elias Pet­ters­son, but the team has since cooled, win­ning just one of their last 12 games.

A con­tin­ued slump could be danger­ous if another fran­chise en­ters the mar­ket and per­forms well, Tin­gling said.

“Fans can be fickle,” he said. “They will only put up with a poor per­for­mance for so long. And if they can look a few hours south to a win­ning team, that’s go­ing to cre­ate some re­sent­ment, I would ex­pect.”

While a new ri­valry with Seat­tle could cap­ture at­ten­tion short­term, it’s not the best way to cre­ate and re­tain fans, Tin­gling said.

“Quite sim­ply, there’s noth­ing like win­ning to fill an arena,” he said. “And if you’re not win­ning, then what else are you do­ing?”

While some say an­i­mos­ity be­tween the Pa­cific North­west teams could take time to boil over, politi­cians were al­ready trad­ing barbs Tues­day.

“I’m ex­cited to see Seat­tle’s #Re­turnToHockey to­day,” Wash­ing­ton Gover­nor Jay Inslee tweeted. “I look for­ward to see­ing the goalie sun­burned by the goal light as the new @NHLSeat­tle— team beats the Van­cou­ver bCanucks in 2021.”

“Won’t be as bad as the sunburn your goalie’s go­ing to get from play­ing golf af­ter the reg­u­lar sea­son’s over,” re­sponded B.C. Pre­mier John Hor­gan. “Con­grat­u­la­tions City of Seat­tle. Go @Canucks go!”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

The Van­cou­ver Canucks and their head coach Travis Green, pic­tured in Boston on Nov. 9, are hop­ing to build an ex­cit­ing ri­valry with Seat­tle’s ex­pan­sion team when they be­gin play in 2021.

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